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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Water Spout in the form of the head of a Black African
Work Type
head, sculpture
1st century BCE-1st century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Alexandria (Egypt)
Ptolemaic period to Roman Imperial
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
5.6 x 4.2 x 4.8 cm (2 3/16 x 1 11/16 x 1 7/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 82.55; Sn, 6.52; Pb, 10.56; Zn, 0.043; Fe, 0.02; Ni, 0.04; Ag, 0.06; Sb, 0.07; As, 0.11; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.024; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is green with areas of red. A black layer, which is resinous in appearance, lies above the red corrosion layer and between layers of green corrosion products. The black layer is present in small quantities on all of the decorative and non-decorative elements of the surface, including shapes at the top and bottom of the object that appear to be related to mounting. It may be a residue rather than an intentional decorative coating. A modern, threaded mount hole is present on the bottom surface. It does not appear to reuse an ancient hole.

The object is a solid cast. The wax model may have been cast or formed directly in the wax. Details including undercuts in the hair were probably formed directly in the wax. The hole from the back of the head to the mouth is c. 6.5 mm in diameter. It slopes downward from back to front at about 35 degrees from horizontal. The hole was drilled from both sides and does not meet perfectly in the middle. This may indicate that it was drilled in the bronze, since cutting a tidier hole all the way through the wax model would have been relatively easy. The hole in the top of the head (1.1 cm in diameter x 1.7 cm deep) appears to have been cast. It does not intersect the front-to-back hole and is off-center from the circular disc shape at the top of the head. Cut marks made by a saw are visible at the top and bottom of the V-shaped opening of the mouth. Since these would have been easily cleaned up in the wax model, it is likely that they were cut into the metal. A 7-mm area surrounding the hole on the back of the head is flat and lacks the hair rendered elsewhere. The surface here may have been connected to a plumbing fixture or other mount. The neck, below which is a smaller-diameter concentric projection, appears to mirror the disc shape with smaller concentric projection on the top of the head. These areas were probably prepared for attachments or mounts. A recess between the neck and smaller disc at the bottom gives the appearance that the smaller disc was inserted like a plug into an opening in the neck of the wax model. No such recess exists between the disc elements at the top of the head.

Henry Lie (submitted 2001)

[Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, (1992)], sold; to Harvard University Art Museums.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr. Jerome M. Eisenberg
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This spout is in the form of a head of an Ethiopian with short curly hair who faces straight ahead, with his eyes and mouth wide open. The strongly arched eyebrows, elongated and flattened nose, and exaggerated lips lend an air of caricature to the portrayal. The head is flat on the back and is pierced at the top and bottom by a vertical cylindrical channel that opens to the mouth, which acted as a spout. The attachment may have served as part of a spigot for a water pipe or as a fountain fixture. Bronze spigots in the form of Ethiopians heads are known from Pompeii, where they were attached to caldaria or portable water heaters (1).


1. See C. A. Marinescu, Earth and Metal: Terracottas and Bronzes, Fortuna Fine Arts, Ltd. (New York, 1990) 72-73, no. 136; and Fine Antiquities Auction, Superior Galleries (Beverley Hills), June 8-9, 1993, lot 610.

Seán Hemingway

Exhibition History

Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008

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

Early Christian Africa: Arts of Transformation, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/31/2019 - 01/05/2020

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

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