Stele with man’s head

Bust sculpture in the round of a bearded man with elongated neck, of translucent alabaster with natural orange veining. The head is highly modelled and probably meant to be viewed only from the front. The face is an elongated oval with a pointed chin. A subtly sanded area separates the roughly worked stone of the hair from the smoothed surface of the face. The forehead is proportionately low. The eyebrows are incised, beveled arcs that sit just above a slightly modeled brow bone.

The eyes are recessed, and the inlay is missing, as is the case with the eyebrows. Tool marks are visible in the hollows of the eyes. The ears protrude from the head and have schematic incised interior detail. They are roughly cut with coffee bean-like designs for details. The nose is disproportionately large and straight with two small grooves on the underside of the nose which serve as nostrils. The mouth is slightly modelled and defined by two grooves. A round, drilled dimple is centered directly under the mouth (and originally inlaid?). The philtrum is flat; an incised, beveled straight line serves as a moustache. The lips are roughly cut into the surface of the stone. The proper left side of the mouth is higher than the right. Below the lower lip a shallow drill hole once held a facial hair attachment. The cheeks are modelled, round and fleshy. The beard, which extends from ear to ear, is represented as a semicircular ledge below the chin. Both edges of the beard are unfinished. The neck is a smooth, column-like element with no detailing.

The surface is abraded in areas – the lower surface of the sculpture is flat and unfinished, with several chisel marks visible. The upper surface is highly smoothed and polished, yet scratched. The top of the head, and the side and bottom edges of the fragment bear signs of heavy alteration and/or chiselling. The top part of the head is chipped. This head was originally a highly raised relief. The back and sides of the head and neck have tool markes and indicate the initial, outer delineations of the raised format of the piece.

Historical period(s)
500 BCE- 200 CE
Medium
Calcite travertine
Dimensions
H x W x D: 23.5 x 12 x 10 cm (9 1/4 x 4 3/4 x 3 15/16 in)
Geography
Yemen
Credit Line
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn to the Smithsonian Institution
Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
S1986.508
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Sculpture, Stone
Type

Stele

Keywords
man, portrait, WWII-era provenance, Yemen
Provenance

To 1962
Gimpel Fils, London. [1]

From 1962 to 1966
Joseph H. Hirshhorn (1899-1981), purchased from Gimpel Fils, London. [2]

From 1966 to 1986
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn. [3]

From 1986
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, transferred from Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC [4]

Notes:

[1] See document from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, object file, Collections Management Office.

[2] See note 1.

[3] See note 1.

[4] See note 1. See also object file, Collections Management Office.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Gimpel Fils
Joseph H. Hirshhorn

Description

Bust sculpture in the round of a bearded man with elongated neck, of translucent alabaster with natural orange veining. The head is highly modelled and probably meant to be viewed only from the front. The face is an elongated oval with a pointed chin. A subtly sanded area separates the roughly worked stone of the hair from the smoothed surface of the face. The forehead is proportionately low. The eyebrows are incised, beveled arcs that sit just above a slightly modeled brow bone.

The eyes are recessed, and the inlay is missing, as is the case with the eyebrows. Tool marks are visible in the hollows of the eyes. The ears protrude from the head and have schematic incised interior detail. They are roughly cut with coffee bean-like designs for details. The nose is disproportionately large and straight with two small grooves on the underside of the nose which serve as nostrils. The mouth is slightly modelled and defined by two grooves. A round, drilled dimple is centered directly under the mouth (and originally inlaid?). The philtrum is flat; an incised, beveled straight line serves as a moustache. The lips are roughly cut into the surface of the stone. The proper left side of the mouth is higher than the right. Below the lower lip a shallow drill hole once held a facial hair attachment. The cheeks are modelled, round and fleshy. The beard, which extends from ear to ear, is represented as a semicircular ledge below the chin. Both edges of the beard are unfinished. The neck is a smooth, column-like element with no detailing.

The surface is abraded in areas - the lower surface of the sculpture is flat and unfinished, with several chisel marks visible. The upper surface is highly smoothed and polished, yet scratched. The top of the head, and the side and bottom edges of the fragment bear signs of heavy alteration and/or chiselling. The top part of the head is chipped. This head was originally a highly raised relief. The back and sides of the head and neck have tool markes and indicate the initial, outer delineations of the raised format of the piece.

Published References
  • Yemen: 3,000 Years of Art and Civilization in Arabia Felix. Exh. cat. Munich. .
  • Paolo M. Costa. Pre-Islamic Antiquities in the Yemen National Museum. Rome. cat. 71.
  • The Encyclopedia of World Art. 17 vols., New York, 1959-1968. col. 555.
  • Ray L. Cleveland. An Ancient South Arabian Necropolis: Objects from the Second Campaign (1951) in the Timna' Cemetery. Publications of the American Foundation for the Study of Man, vol. 4 Baltimore. cat. 9, p. 21.
  • Carlo Conti Rossini. Dalle Rovine di Ausan. pp. 727-754.
Collection Area(s)
Ancient Near Eastern Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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