Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Funerary relief

ca. 150–200
Syria, probably from Palmyra
19 1/4 x 13 7/8 x 8 15/16 in. (48.9 x 35.3 x 22.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1898
Accession Number:
Not on view
(at right)
1 Alas!
2 [‘O]ga,
3-4 [son of] Zabda‘ateh,

(at left, written vertically)
1 (son of) Wahba.
2 Which made
3 his brother.

1 ḥbl
2 [ʿ]gʾ
3 [br] zbdʿt
4 h
1 whbʾ
2 dy ʿbd
3 ʾḥwhy

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 man dressed in a Greek cloak known as a himation, worn over a chiton, or tunic, and wrapped around the 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. The background of the relief has been damaged, but a dorsalium (draped cloth) remains partially visible above the shoulders and on the right side. An inscription in Palmyrene Aramaic on either side of his head gives his father and grandfather’s names, and records that the monument was commissioned by the deceased’s brother. Traces of red paint survive in the letters of the inscription. Below eyebrows depicted as simple incised lines, the 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 man’s short hair is depicted as a row of wavy locks, creating a cap-like hairstyle, slightly receding at the temples to suggest middle age. Palmyrene funerary reliefs are not portraits in the modern sense, but the receding chin, and the fleshy folds across his throat, suggest attempts to depict specific features of the deceased. This relief can be stylistically dated to around 150-200 A.D. because of the treatment of the 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.
Gottheil, Richard. 1900. "Seven Unpublished Palmyrene Inscriptions." Journal of the American Oriental Society 21, pp. 109-111, fig. 5, 6.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. 1901. “Sur Quelques Inscriptions Palmyrèniennes Récemment Publiées.” Journal Asiatique 9, pp. 348-349, no. 5-6.

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

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. 2046, p. 134.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. 1905. Répertoire d'Épigraphie Sémitique. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, no. 159, 762.

Arnold, William R. 1905. "Additional Palmyrene Inscriptions in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York." Journal of the American Oriental Society 26, pp. 111-112.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. 1922. Choix d'Inscriptions de Palmyre. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, p. 129, pl. 31.2.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste, ed. 1926. Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum III. Inscriptions Hébraïques. Paris: Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, p. 375, no. 4330, pl. 36.

Ingholt, Harald. 1928. Studier over Palmyrensk Skulptur. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel, p. 109.

Colledge, Malcolm. 1976. The Art of Palmyra. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, p. 249.

Hillers, Delbert R. and Eleonora Cussini. 1996. Palmyrene Aramaic Texts. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 123, no. C4330.
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