Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Spear Jr. Gift, 1982
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 406
This fine male portrait head is thought to date from the middle of the first millennium A.D. and may have been part of a larger royal sculpture. The figure is wearing a stylized laurel wreath, a symbol of high rank. The use of the wreath to denote status reflects the influence of the Graeco-Roman world and appears in more realistic form on the coins of the kingdom of Himyar from the first centuries B.C. and A.D. A long mustache drapes along each side of the mouth, the chin is bearded, and a single ringlet is carefully carved on the surface of the left cheek. This last detail is undoubtedly significant since it is, to this day, characteristic of the hairstyle of Yemeni Jews. In the fourth century A.D. many of the kings of Himyar were converted to Judaism, so this feature may eventually aid in the identification of the figure. Carved from translucent alabaster with beautifully polished surfaces, this portrait is a notable example of the art of ancient Arabia.
Before 1967, private collection, Aden; acquired by the Museum in 1982, purchased from Geoffrey Turner, Ancient Art, Amsterdam.
Doe, Brian. 1971. Southern Arabia. New York: Thames and Hudson, p. 107, pl. 26.
Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 113 (Jul. 1,1982 - Jun. 30, 1983), p. 19.
Harper, Prudence O. 1982–1983. Notable Acquisitions (Metropolitan Museum of Art), pp. 4-5.
Parlasca, Klaus. 1989. "Bemerkurgen zu den Archäologischen Beziekhungenzwischen Südarabien und dem Grieshishchen-Vömischen Kulturkreis." In L'Arabie Préislamique et son Environnement Historique et Culturel, edited by T. Fahd. Strasbourg: Université des Sciences Humaines, p. 284, abb. 9.