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: Head of a Man

Head of a Man

Historical period(s)
300 BCE-100 CE
Calcite travertine
H x W x D: 19.8 x 17.5 x 9 cm (7 13/16 x 6 7/8 x 3 9/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn to the Smithsonian Institution
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
Head of a bearded male, carved from transluscent alabaster. Highly modelled, probably meant to be viewed only from the front. The facial features are rendered in detail. The back surface has two large, straight and smooth tool marks running vertically from top to bottom. The eyes are recessed deeply and inlay is missing, as is the case with the eyebrows. The ears, which stick out nearly perpendicular to the head, are slightly abraded, simply modelled and incised. The mouth lies in a slightly raised plane which extends from the palate to the beard. The lips are slightly modelled and separated by a thin finished groove. The beard, which extends from ear to ear, is represented as a semicircular ledge below the chin. Both front and bottom edges of beard are smoothed. The sculpture rests in a smoothed and finished background field. The parallel grooves define the hair line.
Numerous often stylized memorial portraits and "face plaques" have been excavated in the cemeteries of Southern Arabia, mainly in the Wadi Beihan and the area of the ancient Qataban Empire (modern Yemen) that flourished between the 5th century BCE and the 1st century CE. in the 19th and 20th centuries. Close parallels to this head are in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History where the remainder of the Hirshhorn collection is today. An updated bibliography on alabaster statues and fragments found throughout modern Yemen can be found in Sabina Antonini, and Mounir Arbach, La statuaria sudarabica in pietra. Rome and Paris (2001). This head stems most likely from the vast cemeteries of ancient Tamna.

To 1963
André Emmerich Gallery, New York. [1]

From 1963 to 1966
Joseph H. Hirshhorn (1899-1981), purchased from André Emmerich Gallery, New York. [2]

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

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


[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.

Former owner
Joseph H. Hirshhorn
André Emmerich Gallery
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
On View Location
Currently not on view
Sculpture, Stone
man, WWII-era provenance, Yemen
Collection(s) Area
Ancient Near Eastern Art
Web Resource(s)
Google Cultural Institute

Rights Statement
Copyright with museum

The Freer|Sackler is closed for renovation and reinstallation. The popular exhibition Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan is still on view in the International Gallery. (Enter through the Ripley Center.) Join us for our reopening celebration on October 14–15, 2017.