The statue was cast using the indirect lost-wax method. It was made in different sections that were then welded together: head, body, genitals, arms above the gloves, forearms, left leg, and middle toes. The top of the head was restored in antiquity. Although the inset eyes are missing, they would have been convincingly rendered, like a pair in the Metropolitan's collection.
The statue is remarkable for its extensive use of inlaid copper, especially for the wounds to the boxer's head and the drips of blood on his right arm and leg as well as his lips, nipples, and the straps and stitching of the boxing gloves. Of particular note is the bruise under his right eye, which was cast with a different alloy to give it a darker color. Extensive cold-working of the statue, especially the hair, was part of the finishing process. The stone base is modern but is probably a close approximation of the ancient base. Originally, the use of stone would have added to the realistic effect so powerfully rendered in the bronze.
The Magical Powers of the Statue
Areas of the boxer's right foot and hands are worn from frequent touching in antiquity. The statue may have been accorded healing powers, as was known to have occurred with other statues of famous athletes. An Early Imperial vitreous paste ring stone appears to represent the same statue of a boxer sitting on a rock and may have been a talisman for the ring's owner. It is perhaps thanks to its popular veneration that the bronze statue Boxer at Rest was protected so carefully in late antiquity, when the Baths of Constantine were destroyed.
Boxing in Antiquity
Boxing was an ancient and revered sport in antiquity. Already practiced in the Bronze Age, it is recorded in the eighth century B.C. among the athletic contests performed during the funeral games of Patrokles in book 23 of Homer's Iliad. It was introduced into the Olympic games in 688 B.C. and became an integral competition at all the major panhellenic sanctuaries where athletic events were held in connection with religious festivities. So popular was boxing among ancient Greek nobility, who valued it as a form of military training, that swollen ears became a mark of honor. In ancient Greece, the rules for boxing differ from those today. A boxer had to face one opponent after another, typically without significant pauses, and blows were dealt exclusively to the head and face. Originally, the gloves used to protect the hands were simple leather straps that covered the forearms. In the fourth century B.C., more complex gloves, such as those on this statue, featured a rigid ring with ox-hide straps around the fingers and were trimmed with fur so that the athlete could wipe himself. Later on, during the Roman Imperial period, the boxing gloves worn by gladiators developed into deadly weapons with sharp metal or broken glass points.