Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Funerary relief

ca. 125–150
Syria, probably from Palmyra
25 1/2 x 20 1/8 x 12 in. (64.8 x 51.1 x 30.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Armida B. Colt, 2011
Accession Number:
Not on view
(at right)
1 Nesha,
2 son of
3 [ ... ]

(at left)
1 Belha,
2 (son of) Hashash.
3 Alas!
1 nšʾ
2 br
3 […]

1 blḥʾ
2 ḥšš
3 ḥbl

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 object, probably a schedula (book roll), in his left hand. His expression is serene, although the intensity of his gaze is emphasized by the large size of his eyes, the modeled eyelids, and the incised concentric circles indicating the iris and pupil of each eye. His hair is depicted as rows of uniform, stylized snail-like curls that cover his head like a cap. The sides and top of the head are rendered in detail, giving a three dimensional aspect to the relief. He stands in front of a dorsalium (draped cloth) affixed by rosettes to a pair of curving leafy branches. An inscription in Palmyrene Aramaic, visible directly to the right of his head, gives his name and lineage, ending with an expression of sorrow common on funerary reliefs at Palmyra. Another inscription, to the right of this one, names a different individual; originally, this slab was probably a double portrait that was cut into two after its removal from the tomb. Small chips and cracks in the surface are due to the use of soft local limestone. Traces of red pigment are visible in the inscription and on the two rosettes. Stylistically, the relief belongs to an early group of Palmyrene male funerary portraits dating to about 50–150 A.D., evidenced by the treatment of the coiffure and the figure’s beardlessness as well as by the manner in which the eyes are carved. In fact, the date can be narrowed further to late in this period (ca. 125–50 A.D.) on the basis of the sensitively modeled carving of the face and the use of pattern-like semicircular shapes among the folds of the himation.
1910s, collection of Dimitri Qandelaft/Andalaft, Cairo; [Parke-Bernet, New York, on November 26, 1948, lot 59]; collection of H. Dunscombe Colt (until d. 1973); since 1966, on loan to the Museum by H. Dunscombe Colt and then Armida B. Colt, Washington, D.C.; acquired by the Museum in 2011, bequest of Armida B. Colt.

“Ancient Art in American Private Collections,” The Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University, Cambridge, December 28, 1954–February 15, 1955.

“Ancient Art from New York Private Collections.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, December 17, 1959–February 28, 1960.

Lidzbarski, Mark. 1902. Ephemeris für Semitische Epigraphik I. Giessen: J. Ricker, pp. 144-145, no. 6 (with Dimitri Qandelaft).

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. 1905. Répertoire d'Épigraphie Sémitique. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, p. 319, no. 1018 (with Dimitri Andalaft).

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste, ed. 1926. Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum III. Inscriptions Hébraïques. Paris: Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, pp. 457-458, no. 4560.

Parke-Bernet, New York. November 26, 1948, sale no. 1101, lot no. 59.

Coolidge, John, ed. 1954. Ancient Art in American Private Collections. exh. cat. Cambridge, MA: Fogg Art Museum, p. 29 no. 184.

Von Bothmer, Dietrich, ed. 1961. Ancient Art from New York Private Collections, exh. cat. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 12, no.58, pl. 19.

Hillers, Delbert R. and Eleonora Cussini. 1996. Palmyrene Aramaic Texts. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Pres, p. 150, no. PAT 0921.
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