This sculpture in high relief shows full-length figures of a man, his son, and two daughters. It is a gravestone depicting a banquet scene that probably sealed the opening of a family burial niche in Palmyra. The man is reclining on a richly decorated couch, holding a palm spray or cluster of dates in his right hand and a cup in his left. The two daughters wear veils, necklaces, and earrings. The son wears a necklace and holds grapes in his right hand and a bird in his left. It bears a Palmyrene Aramaic inscription giving the names of each of the deceased and five generations of their paternal ancestors.
By the mid-first century A.D., Palmyra — or "place of the palms"—was a wealthy and impressive city located along the caravan routes that linked the Parthian Near East with Roman-controlled Mediterranean ports. During the period of great prosperity that followed, the citizens of Palmyra adopted customs and modes of dress from both the Iranian Parthian world to the east and the Greco-Roman west. This blend of eastern and western elements is also present in Palmyrene art. In this sculpture, the care lavished on details of dress and jewelry recalls the Parthian approach to figural representation while the postures and the distinct sense of volume conveyed by the carving in high relief are Greco-Roman in style.
Large-scale funerary structures were common in Palmyra. Vaults, some of which were belowground, had interior walls that were constructed to form burial compartments in which the deceased, extended full length, were placed. Sculpted limestone reliefs depicting the deceased and often carrying an Aramaic inscription giving the subject’s name and genealogy represented the "personality" or "soul" of the person. These were constructed as markers for eternity much like modern gravestones and mausoleums.
Adapted from, Art of the Ancient Near East: A Resource for Educators (2010)
Acquired by the Museum in 1902, purchased from Azeez Khayat, New York.
“Palmyrene and Gandharan Sculpture.” Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, October 8, 1954–January 17, 1955.
“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.
“Wine: Celebration and Ceremony,” Cooper–Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, June 4–October 13, 1985.
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. 2049, p. 135.
Arnold, William R. 1905. "Additional Palmyrene Inscriptions in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York." Journal of the American Oriental Society 26, no. II, pp. 106-107.
Clermont-Ganneau, Charles. 1906. Recueil d'Archéologie Orientale VII. Paris: E. Leroux, pp. 356-357.
Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. 1922. Choix d'Inscriptions de Palmyre. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, pp. 112-113, pl. 27.11.
Chabot, Jean-Baptiste, ed. 1926. Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum III. Inscriptions Hébraïques. Paris: Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, p. 347, no. 4259, pl. 39.
Ingholt, Harald. 1928. Studier Over Palmyrensk Skulptur. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel, pp. 95-96.
Ingholt, Harald. 1938. "Inscriptions and Sculptures from Palmyra, II." Berytus 5, p. 103.
Will, Ernest. 1949. "La Tour Funéraire de Palmyre." Syria 26, p. 99, no. 1.
Will, Ernest. 1951. "Le Relief de la Tour de Kithôt et le Banquet Funéraire à Palmyre." Syria 28, p. 89.
Sabeh, Joseph. 1953. "Sculptures Palmyréniennes Inédites du Musée de Damas." Les Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes 3, p. 21, no. 2.
Ingholt, Harald. 1954. Palmyrene and Gandharan Sculpture, exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, no. 6, fig. 6.
Gawlikowski, Michal. 1970. Monuments Funéraires de Palmyre. Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, p. 115 no. 25.
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. 25.
Parlasca, Klaus. 1984. "Probleme der Palmyrenischen Sarkophage." In Symposium über die Antiken Sarkophage: Pisa 5.-12. September 1982: Marburger Wincklemann-Programm 1984, edited by Bernard Andreae, Marburg/Lahn: Verlag des Kunstgeschichtlichen Seminars, pp. 285-286, fig. 1.
Hillers, Delbert R. and Eleonora Cussini. 1996. Palmyrene Aramaic Texts. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, no. C4259, p. 114.
Benzel, Kim, Sarah B. Graff, Yelena Rakic, and Edith W. Watts. 2010. Art of the Ancient Near East: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, image 28, pp. 106-107.