Art

Balsamarium (incense burner) in the Shape of a Bust of Bacchus

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Balsamarium (incense burner) in the Shape of a Bust of Bacchus, 2nd-3rd century CE
Vessel
Roman
,
2nd-3rd century CE
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Creation Place: Egypt (Ancient)
Leaded bronze, silver inlay
17.5 x 10.3 x 6.5 cm (6 7/8 x 4 1/16 x 2 9/16 in.)
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, David M. Robinson Fund
, 1972.87
Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art & Numismatics
,
Description
Bust of Dionysos rises from a spreading calyx of acanthus leaves which sits upon a cylindrical pedestal with flaring foot. The hinged lid that originally covered the top of the vessel is now missing; loops for its attachment remain at the back of the vessel's opening. The youthful god wears a feline pelt tied over his left shoulder with a square knot; the paws project in high relief. Hair on the pelt is rendered by fine vertical striations. Dionysos' own hair, rolled under in a bun at the nape of the neck, is arranged in broad grooves spreading from a central part over the forehead. A hairband passes across the forehead. Pairs of curving strands descend onto both shoulders; smaller single locks curl onto either cheek. A diadem of ivy, comprising three leaves alternating with a bunch of berries, overlies the hair. Eyes inlaid with silver, lips parted. (Excerpted from note in file. JSS, 6/99).
Commentary
Re-View Exhibition, Spring 2008, gallery label information:

This elaborate balsamarium (perfume container) represents a youthful wine god dressed in a panther skin and crowned by an ivy wreath.

Additional commentary:

This balsamarium is one of the finest examples of a class of cast Roman bronze perfume containers, usually provided with either a swinging handle at the top, as was originally the case here, or with a hinged lid to prevent spilling. A variety of satyrs, maenads, and Africans also appear as subjects for this category of perfume containers. With its inlaid silver eyes, this bust of Dionysos presents an unusually attractive and light-hearted portrayal of the god of wine, inebriation and ecstasy.
(David Gordon Mitten)
Provenance
Charles Dikran Kelekian [private collection], Egypt, (by 1914) to; Kelekian [private collection], Paris (from 1919) to; Kelekian [private collection] New York (after the war ca. 1950) purchase; Harvard Art Museum 1972.
Bibliography
Caroline Houser, Dionysos and His Circle: Ancient Through Modern, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1979), p. 60-62, no. 41.

Exhibition History
Dionysos and His Circle: Ancient through Modern, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 12/10/1979 - 02/10/1980
Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008
Re-View: S422 Ancient & Byzantine Art & Numismatics, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/2008 - 06/18/2011
Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013