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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Slave or actor with yoke
Work Type
sculpture, statuette
1st-3rd century CE
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

12.8 × 8 cm (5 1/16 × 3 1/8 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Dr. Harris Kennedy, Milton, MA (by 1932), gift; to the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum, 1932.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr. Harris Kennedy, Class of 1894
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Almost complete figurine in good condition.

A slave or comic actor, standing, dressed, and burdened with a yoke. Bald, rounded head cocked slightly to the right. Deeply wrinkled forehead; narrow, wavy eyebrows; large, almond-shaped eyes with narrow lids rendered in relief. Somewhat large nose, now worn; closed mouth; rounded chin. Prominent, stylized ears. Overall expression seems happy or smiling.

He wears a short tunic with short sleeves under a paenula (a cloak that is similar to a poncho). The paenula’s large V-neck takes up most of the figure’s torso; stiff, plastic folds at front, somewhat looser at back. Right arm and hand are visible, if modeled a bit crudely, placed across the chest and holding a staff. The left hand seems to be grasping the yoke from behind and is mostly obscured by the paenula. The thinness of the visible arm suggests emaciation. The bare legs, set apart with knees slightly bent, are overly thick by comparison. The pose allows for a rounded protrusion to peek out from under the short tunic; a missing attachment could be a prosthetic phallus. Bare feet, with incised toes.

The man carries a yoke behind his neck, one woven basket hanging from a thick rope at each side. The baskets are cylindrical, with vertical weaving along the body and two horizontal bands at both top and bottom. The man stands on a rectangular base with simple molding at sides and front, and a plain back.

Would have been painted originally. Traces of thick white ground extant, especially at front.

The figure is hollow, and made in a single bivalve mold, plaster. Significant modeling at back. Join seams are sharp and visible, but tidy. No venthole. The base was made separately; solid, with a slightly concave bottom. Partial fingerprint at the bottom edge of the base. The figurine stands on its own for the most part, but it is slightly unstable. The linear treatment of features and incised detailing, like that of the weave of the baskets and ropes, suggest a later Imperial date.

Reddish-brown clay, hard-fired.
The actors of Roman antiquity were both vilified and idolized: on the one hand, they were legally disenfranchised; on the other, they won the love of their public with their expressive performances. This terracotta figurine, and others like it, would have reminded its owner of the visual splendor of the theater, its originally painted surface brightly complementing the subject. Its small size and warm material would have further inspired handling. What sort of effects could have holding the miniature version of these ambivalent characters had on past theater afficionados?

Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/04/2021 - 01/02/2022

Related Works

Verification Level

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