Near East/Holy Land, Palmyra, Roman period, ca. 2nd to 3rd century CE. A high relief funerary bust, hand-carved from limestone, depicting half of the body of a man. His face is smooth, his eyes large and staring straight ahead, the pupils and irises incised to give him a more lifelike appearance. He wears a tall, conical modius, with a chlamys secured at one shoulder; the thick folds and drapes of the fabric have been well-carved by the creator. In one hand, he holds a bowl or goblet; in the other he holds a scroll-like object or possibly a tall, thin vessel with a wide, spool-shaped mouth. To the right of his head are three lines of inscribed Aramaic, partially visible. The other side of his head may once had had more writing or a carved architectural feature like a column, based on similar examples. Size: 6.4" L x 17.25" W x 20.75" H (16.3 cm x 43.8 cm x 52.7 cm)
Palmyra was a wealthy city that linked the caravan routes from the Parthian Near East with the Roman Mediterranean; the people who lived there during this period largely enjoyed prosperity and were able to adopt eastern and western customs, clothing, and artistic styles, creating a distinctive visual culture unique to the city. We know of this culture today from the large funerary monuments that the Palmyrans built - tower-shaped vaults whose interiors were lined with sculpted limestone reliefs depicting the deceased. Many of these, as this example, had Aramaic inscriptions which gave the name and family history of the dead.
This bust is very similar - including the items in the hand and the clothing - to this example at the British Museum: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=282719&partId=1&images=true
Provenance: private Houston, Texas, USA collection; ex-Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger Auction 277-278, Munich, Germany, lot 557
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Loss to top of modius as shown. Loss to some of the fingers, and to one lower corner and one side of the uncarved plaque (which may have had Aramaic on it or some other carving). Nose is fully restored as is part of one hand. Surface deposits, with scratches and chips commensurate with age.