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.
The relief depicts the upper body of a youthful, beardless man dressed in a Greek garment known as a himation, which wraps around his right arm like a sling, holding a small leafy branch in his left hand. His expression is serene, although the intensity of his gaze is emphasized by the large size of his eyes, the carefully outlined eyelids, and the incised concentric circles indicating the iris and pupil of each eye. His hair is depicted as a row of uniform wavy curls that cover his head like a cap, ending above his protruding ears. He stands in front of a dorsalium (draped cloth) affixed by a rosette to a leafy branch; the left side, which probably resembled the remaining half, is missing except for a trace of the branch at the left edge. An inscription in Palmyrene Aramaic, visible to the right of his head, is now illegible, but probably recorded the name and lineage of the deceased. Carved in soft local limestone, the relief shows signs of wear including a break at the tip of the nose. Stylistically, the relief belongs to an early group of Palmyrene male funerary portraits dating to about 125-150 A.D., evidenced by the figure’s beardlessness as well as by the manner in which the eyes are carved, and by the use of pattern-like semicircular shapes to depict the folds of the himation.
Acquired by the Museum in 1901, purchased from Azeez Khayat, New York.
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. 2038, p. 133.
Ingholt, Harald. 1928. Studier over Palmyrensk Skulptur. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel, p. 102.
Colledge, Malcolm. 1976. The Art of Palmyra. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, p. 247.