South Arabian alabaster altar and bronze
Period: 5th Century B.C. - 3rd Century B.C.
Material: Alabaster and bronze
Dimensions: Height: 36.80 cm
Ex-French private collection, 1975.
Complete, in excellent condition; superficial minor chips. The surface is smooth and well-polished, but roughly shaped in the posterior part, which was not visible. Traces of the plaster that served for the attachment of the altar to its original location.
Rectangular block of light color alabaster with amber veins is shaped in the form of a temple. It is represented by the centered, tall door frame that includes a bronze figure. The triple- recessed elements give the idea of multiple pillars seen in the prospective. Two side pillars are the temple’s walls that hold the pediment with eight similar frontal animal heads. At the corners of the pediment there are two additional structures which are probably stylized windows.
The archaeological excavations in the area revealed different types of religious buildings, temples and sanctuaries; the reconstructions show the major type as architectural complex: the enclosure with monumental portal, central court, and the side porticos that were supported by the pillars. The present and similar altars are usually described as representing temples; however the meaning should be that they show the temple enclosures.
Although the long horns are not indicated, the stylized features of the heads in the pediment are recognized as those of ibex. The ibexes were popular images in South Arabian art and have a religious connotation. The heads refer to the sacrificial figures surmounted the altars which had been place in front of a temple building. The heads had not only a decorative function, but animal magical qualities as well, the vital energy and the power of the wild nature.
The separately made bronze figure served as a votive offering. It represents a standing male wearing a long pleated kilt wrapped around and held in place with a belt, the legs placed into a thin rectangular plinth. His arms are outstretched and the round eyes are wide opened as he addresses to a god. Several altars preserve dedicatory inscriptions that mention the hope that the god will help with some problem or they offer thanks for favor shown. There are two major topics, victory in war, and the childbirth; and the dedicant often promised to fulfill a pilgrimage or give some precious object to a temple. The small bronze reflects the model and the composition of the large statues.
Faces of Ancient Arabia, The Giraud and Carolyn Foster Collection of South Arabian Art, Baltimore, 2008, pp. 119-121.
Queen of Sheba, Treasures from Ancient Yemen, London, 2002, pp. 161-165, 167 no. 210.
Yémen, au pays de la reine de Saba’, Paris, 1997, pp. 130-149.