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Identification and Creation
Object Number
1959.128.A
Title
Strigil (Scraper) Fragment
Classification
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
strigil
Date
5th century BCE
Places
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Period
Archaic period to Classical
Culture
Greek
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/198821
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Bronze
Technique
Hammered
Dimensions
2.5 x 10.1 cm (1 x 4 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Bronze:
Cu, 87.62; Sn, 11.89; Pb, less than 0.025; Zn, 0.017; Fe, 0.13; Ni, 0.03; Ag, 0.04; Sb, 0.04; As, 0.24; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, less than 0.005; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: All of the strigils (1935.35.56, 1959.128.A, 1959.128.B, 1960.484, 1978.495.54, 1978.495.55, 1983.7, and 1983.8) have a green patina, but with variations. 1935.35.56 was sanded clean of burial accretions on the inside to a smooth turquoise color and has reddish and golden brown areas on outside. 1983.7 and 1960.484 have reddish and golden brown metal showing through in localized areas; 1960.484 is also black in smaller areas and has tan accretions. 1978.495.54 is dark reddish brown at the broken end, and 1978.495.55 has red and black areas. 1983.8 has black, white, and gray speckled accretions. The two strigil fragments, 1959.128.A and 1959.128.B, have a dark green patina that has popped off in localized areas, exposing brown metal.

Each of Harvard’s strigils was made from a single piece of metal that was hammered out into a cupped, curved scraper at one end and, in most cases, a handle at the other end that bends back on itself and terminates in a finial. The concave shapes of all of the scrapers were fashioned by hammering the metal over a hard mold. The overall thickness of all of the scraper blades is relatively consistent, ranging from 0.3 to 0.7 mm. Although no hammer marks have been found from visual examination of the surface, x-radiographs revealed mottled linear patterns that are the result of both hammering and burnishing. In the x-radiographs of 1935.35.56 and 1983.8, the mottled texture and distortion of the metal due to hammering are particularly clear, indicating that these were cut from a thin sheet of metal. The thickness of the scraper blades of these two strigils is surprisingly consistent (c. 0.3 to 0.4 mm); this thickness would have been difficult to achieve by casting. The cupped scraper was shaped over a form (whether convex or concave is not clear), and the excess metal was cut off and smoothed. A thin flap extends out to each side of the edges of these scrapers near the handle, where the excess metal was only partially trimmed. 1983.7 was probably made that way as well, as it is very flat overall. In 1983.7, 1978.495.54, and 1960.484, on the other hand, both the thickness of the handles as well as the presence of a small lip that offsets the handle from the cupped end of the scrapers suggest that the implements were cast as blanks. These simplified, flat forms would have been hammered and bent into shape, as was done with the other strigils that were cut from metal sheets. Fine, parallel abrasive marks made by the tools used to smooth or burnish are preserved on 1978.495.55 and on the back surface of 1960.484. On the latter, areas of the original metal surface are better preserved than most of the other strigils, as those areas lie under what may be the translucent darkened remains of organic material.

The handles of all of the Greek strigils were bent in a similar fashion, so that their finials would fit neatly against the back of the scraper. However, on all but one of the pieces, the finials are separate from the back of the scraper. It is not obvious how or whether they were attached. On 1983.7, the finial is riveted to the scraper with an iron pin that pierces through to the inner surface of the blade. The rust, which is embedded in the surrounding copper corrosion and burial accretions, indicates that this fastening dates prior to burial. Closer examination of the other strigils revealed traces of what may be solder on the back of the scraper in the area corresponding to the shape of the finial. The use of solder was confirmed by the denser patches in the x-radiographs of 1960.484, 1983.7, and faintly on 1983.8. Some translucent reddish-brown organic material remains on 1935.35.56, on the back of the scraper in the area corresponding to the finial, but this appears to be over the corroded metal and is, therefore, probably a more recent adhesive.

Two fragments of strigil scrapers, 1959.128.A and 1959.128.B, were found inside a Panathenaic amphora. These fragments have early repair remains consisting of strips of metal adhered with a translucent brown resinous material to the cracked and broken metal. There is no evidence of the method of manufacture, but they have the same thickness as the other strigils in the collection.


Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2001)

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of David M. Robinson
Accession Year
1959
Object Number
1959.128.A
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions

Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
Two strigil fragments, 1959.128.A and 1959.128.B, were found inside a Panathenaic amphora (1959.128).
1959.128.A may be part of a strigil scoop, while 1959.128.B might be part of the handle of a strigil of the same type as 1977.216.1854 (1).

A strigil, which consists of a curved scoop with a handle, was a tool used in the baths for cleaning an individual’s body. Oil would be applied to a person’s skin and then removed, along with dirt or sweat, using the curved scoop of a strigil (2). The Apoxyomenos statue type, known from ancient literature as well as several copies including two over-life-size bronze versions, depicts an athlete cleaning the scoop of a strigil after use (3).

NOTES:

1. Although fragmentary, the find context of a Panathenaic amphora, dated to the fifth century BCE, indicates that the fragments may have come from a strigil similar to 1960.484, with a flattened handle bent to form a hook; compare D. M. Robinson, Olynthus 10: Metal and Minor Miscellaneous Finds (Baltimore, 1941) 172-78, nos. 517-50, pls. 32-36; M. Comstock and C. C. Vermeule, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Bronzes in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Greenwich, CT, 1971) 412, nos. 588-89; and J. Tabolli, “Gli strigili,” in Il Museo delle Antichità Etrusche e Italiche 3: I bronzi della collezione Gorga, Ed. M. G. Benedettini (Rome, 2012) 422-43, nos. 1279-390.

2. For an overview of the use of strigils, see G. M. A. Richter, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Bronzes (New York, 1915) 293-94. For an overview of strigil types, see C. W. Blegen, H. Palmer, and R. S. Young, Corinth 13: The North Cemetery (Princeton, 1964) 91-95, fig. 9.

3. Pliny, Natural History 34.65. For the statue type and copies, see J. M. Daehner and K. Lapatin, eds., Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, exh. cat., Palazzo Strozzi, Florence; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (Los Angeles, 2015) 122-23 and 270-81, nos. 40-44. A red-figure plate at Harvard, 1960.351, also depicts an athlete holding a strigil.

Francesca G. Bewer and Lisa M. Anderson

Exhibition History

Fragments of Antiquity: Drawing Upon Greek Vases, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/15/1997 - 12/28/1997

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu