Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Funerary relief

ca. 150–200
Syria, probably from Palmyra
20 5/8 × 15 1/8 × 7 5/8 in., 98 lb. (52.4 × 38.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1898
Accession Number:
Not on view
1-2 This image
3 (is of) Zabda‘ateh,
4 son of Zabda‘ateh,
5 which made for him
6 Wahba,
7 his brother.
8 Alas!

1 npšʾ
2 dnh
3 zbdʿth
4 br zbdʿth
5 dy ʿbd lh
6 whbʾ
7 ʾḥwhy
8 ḥbl

This relief is a type of funerary monument characteristic of the prosperous caravan city of Palmyra during the first three centuries A.D. Reliefs with a representation of the deceased and a short identifying inscription were used to seal burial niches in elaborately decorated communal tombs; those with a half-length or bust format became prevalent sometime after A.D. 65.

Shown here is the upper body of a bearded man, in high relief against the background of a dorsalium (draped cloth) secured at both ends to leafy branches, who faces directly toward the viewer. To the left of his head, an inscription gives his name, his father’s name, and that of his brother, who set up this monument to his memory, ending with an expression of sorrow common on funerary reliefs at Palmyra. He is dressed in the Greek style, with a tunic worn under a himation, or cloak, which wraps around his right arm like a sling. The folds of these garments are regular and pattern-like, without a realistic sense of weight and volume. Likewise, his hands are simple blocky forms, without articulated joints or bone structure. He holds a small object, probably a schedula (book roll), in his left hand, and wears rings on the ring and little finger of that hand. His eyelids are carefully outlined, and downturned at both inner and outer corners. The iris of each large eye is indicated as an incised circle, and the pupils are drilled, underscoring the intensity of the gaze which is directed slightly up and far beyond the viewer. The eyebrows are marked with hatching. The man’s short hair is depicted as a mass of snail-like curls, ending above his protruding ears, while his beard is made up of separate wavy locks. Traces of red paint remain in the letters of the inscription and on his rings, and traces of black paint can be seen on the carved irises of the eyes. This relief can be stylistically dated to around 150-200 A.D. because of the figure’s beard, the treatment of the eyebrows and eyes, and the modeling of the himation, which lacks the semicircular folds found on earlier examples.
Acquired by the Museum in 1898, purchased from Emile Abela, Tripoli.

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department,” MOA Museum of Art, Atami, Japan, The Aiche Prefectural Art Gallery, Nagoya, Japan, The Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan, 1983.

“The Year One: Art of the Ancient World East and West.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 3, 2000–January 14, 2001.

“Alexander the Great: East-West Cultural Contact from Greece to Japan.” Tokyo National Museum, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe, Japan, August 5, 2003–December 23, 2003.

“The Written Word.” Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, September 24, 2014–May 31, 2015.

Gottheil, Richard. 1900. "Seven Unpublished Palmyrene Inscriptions." Journal of the American Oriental Society 21, pp. 109-111, fig. 4.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. 1901. “Sur Quelques Inscriptions Palmyrèniennes Récemment Publiées.” Journal Asiatique 9, pp. 347-348, no. 4.

Lidzbarski, Mark. 1902. Ephemeris für Semitische Epigraphik I. Giessen: J. Ricker, p. 215, no. D.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1904. "The Stone Sculptures of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriote Antiquities in Halls 14, 18 and 19." In Handbook No. 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 2051, p. 135.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. 1905. Répertoire d'Épigraphie Sémitique. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, no. 158.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. 1922. Choix d'Inscriptions de Palmyre. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, p. 129, pl. 31.4.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste, ed. 1926. Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum III. Inscriptions Hébraïques. Paris: Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, p. 374, no. 4328, pl. 36.

Ingholt, Harald. 1928. Studier over Palmyrensk Skulptur. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel, p. 111.

Colledge, Malcolm. 1976. The Art of Palmyra. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, p. 250.

Imai, Ayako. 1983. “Palmyrene Reliefs.” In The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department, exh. cat. Tokyo: Chunichi Shimbun, no. 26.

Hillers, Delbert R. and Eleonora Cussini. 1996. Palmyrene Aramaic Texts. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 123, no. C4328.

Milleker, Elizabeth J., ed. 2000. The Year One: Art of the Ancient World East and West, exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, no. 87.

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art. 2003. Alexander the Great: East-West Cultural Contacts from Greece to Japan, exh. cat. Toyko National Museum, p. 105, no. 95.
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