Sabaean Alabaster Head of a Dignitary
Period: Sabaean (South Arabia), 2nd - 1st century B.C.
Dimensions: Height: 23.0cm.
Ex-English private collection.
The piece is whole, with its brake at the nape of the neck. Hair and a beard of plaster or raw clay – modeled in wavy, painted locks – covered the surface of the stone, which is now pocked. The eyes were originally inlaid (plaster and obsidian?).
The superb head is oblong, green-beige in color with long gray veins, and with a delicate and elegant face. There are no individual features: the treatment of the skin, smooth and firm, shows neither wrinkles, nor any expression. This is a constant of South Arabian figures, which are all different from each other but never show precise personal features. The face is structured in a rigid, symmetrical manner: the vertical axis, marked by the nose, is intersected by the horizontal lines of the forehead, the eyebrows, the eyes and the mouth. The sculptor utilized edges, incisions and projections rather than volumes and plastic forms.
The wide variety of human representations (male and female) in South Arabian art is astonishing; besides the statuettes (seated or standing figures), one finds steles in low or very high relief and heads with long necks affixed to a base: our head probably belonged to this last category of sculptures. The meaning of such images is unknown, but the fact that they essentially come from necropoleis and the presence of inscriptions (on the base) clearly indicate that they were commemorative portraits placed close to the tombs – the South Arabian inscriptions always refer to the name of the represented figure and to his clan. Among the statues found, there are also portraits of kings, but only the inscription allows us to identify them. Like all the most beautiful south Arabian figures, this statue belongs to the Middle Period, which corresponds approximately to the Hellenistic Greek period.
DE MAIGRET A., “Arabia Felix, Un viaggio nell’ archeologia dello Yemen”, Milano, 1996.
“Yemen, au pays de la reine de Saba”, 1997, pp. 150-155.