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Part of a marble sculpture of two boys fighting over a game of knucklebones

 

Height: 68.000 cm

Townley Collection

GR 1805.7-3.7 (Sculpture 1756)

    Part of a marble sculpture of two boys fighting over a game of knucklebones

    Roman, possibly 1st century BC

    Known as 'The Cannibal'

    This sculpture represents a boy biting the limb of his opponent (now missing) at a game of knucklebones. 'Knucklebones' (astragali) are in fact the small bones from the ankle joint of cloven-hoofed animals such as sheep or goats. The four long sides of each bone were given different values and so could be rolled like dice. Astragali appear in the sculpture resting on the plinth in front of the boy's left shin.

    The sculpture was found in Rome among the ruins of the Baths of Trajan in the seventeenth century. It was acquired by Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini, Pope 1623-44), who gave it to his nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679). It remained in the Barberini Palace until 1767, when it was bought by Thomas Jenkins, a painter and dealer resident in Rome. He in turn sold it to Charles Townley during his first Grand Tour in 1768. The Townley Collection passed to The British Museum in 1805.