Exceedingly rare to find! From ancient Rome, ca. 1st Century B.C. Crafted of solid bronze, a set of two body scrapers (strigils) used by athletes in antiquity to clean the body. Athletes would apply olive oil to their bodies before competing or exercising to avoid dirt from getting into the pores of the skin, but possibly also to avoid sunburn. Afterwards they used strigils to scrape off the oil as well as the sand and dirt which had stuck to it during the contest. Before the introduction of fat-based soaps in the late Empire, the cleansing medium was a mixture of low-grade olive oil and pumice. This was applied to the body and then scraped off by means of a strigil.
Strigils were made in different sizes and shapes to suit different parts of the body; sets were sometimes attached to a chain or ring, which went round the wrist for convenience in carrying, and could be combined with an aryballos for the oil. Such sets can be found in major museum like the British Museum London (Inv. no. GR 1868,0105.46) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (accession number 40.59a–e).
The strigils in this set were decorated by a series of lines along part of the scrapers, and have markings on the inside of the handles. Lovely, well-aged patina shows shades of green, red-brown and blue (traces of azurite). When hanging on ring, set measures 10-1/2"L, while height of strigils alone is 7-5/8"L, intact/excellent condition, with some encrustation/surface wear, plus some roughness at the ring and the tip of one of the scrapers, as shown. A highly desirable set, rarely seen on the market.
ProvenanceEx-private Dutch collection; previously with Christie’s, South Kensington, London, sale 7952 of 8 April 1998, part of lot 326.