Greco-Roman Garnet Pendant of a Head of an African
Period: Late 1st Century B.C.- 2nd Century A.D.
Dimensions: Height: 2.3 cm
Ex- Hatch-Conrad Collection, Germany, collected in the 1970s.
This minuscule head, broken at the base of the neck, certainly belonged to a statue of an African depicted standing or perhaps crouching. In spite of its size, the quality of the workmanship is clearly apparent, more a piece of sculpture than a mere gem.
The Negroid features of the young man are evident in the treatment of the short, curly hair and the broad nose; but the shape of the face, very fine and elongated, recalls features of Ethiopians or a cross between Ethiopians and Nubians.
In Greco-Roman art, the use of semi-precious stones (agate, garnet, cornelian, etc.) or of amber for the creation of small jewels representing African(s) is known from the end of the Classical Period: intaglios for rings, pendants for necklaces or earrings (cf. n. 28) carved in the shape of heads of Africans, a small agate pommel that reproduces three joined busts (two men and a woman), etc. On the other hand, no other whole figurine in garnet can be mentioned as a parallel for this statuette: it was probably an amulet that could be worn around the neck (a circular loop for the necklace is sculpted into the top of the head) to bring the wearer apotropaic power and good-luck.
SNOWDEN JR. F. M., Iconographical Evidence on the Black Populations in Greco-Roman Antiquity in VERCOUTTER J., The Image of the Black in Western Art, Vol. 1: From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire, Cambridge (Massachusetts) – London, 1991, pp. 167-168, fig. 201 pp. 194-195, fig. 243-246.