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 who faces directly toward the viewer, dressed in a Greek cloak known as a himation, worn over a chiton, or tunic, and wrapped around the right arm like a sling. Carved in soft local limestone, the lower part of the bust has been worn away and the hands are no longer discernible, making it impossible to tell whether an attribute is held in the left hand. The background of the relief has been broken away, but was likely inscribed in Palmyrene Aramaic with the name and lineage of the deceased. His upper eyelids are modeled, and incised circles mark the iris of each eye. Above the incised line of the eyebrows, the forehead is creased with horizontal furrows, creating a stern and careworn expression. The gaze does not meet the viewer’s but extends far into the distance. The man’s short hair is depicted as a mass of wavy locks that cover his head like a cap, ending above his protruding ears. His beard is schematically indicated by an outline, filled in with short strokes. The relief can be stylistically dated to around 200-273 A.D. because of the distinctive technique used to carve the beard.
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. 2047, p. 135.