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: Head of Male

Head of Male

Historical period(s)
300 BCE-100 CE
Travertine inlaid with stone or shell
21.4 x 16.2 x 12.4 cm
Credit Line
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn to the Smithsonian Instiution
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
Head of a bearded male, of translucent travertine with natural orange veining. Highly modelled, probably meant to be viewed only from the front. The facial features are rendered in detail. The back surface of the sculpture is unfinished, cut flat with heavy chisel marks. The eyes are recessed and inlaid with stone or shell eyeballs; no eyebrows indicated. The ears protrude perpendicular to the head so that they may be viewed completely from the front, and have uneven incisions which schematically represent interior detail. The nose is straight with an indication of nostrils, and the mouth, palate and chin areas are slightly modelled. The lips are separated only by a thin, grooved incision. The beard, which extends from ear to ear, is represented by a semicircular ledge which thins below the chin. All surfaces of the beard are unfinished. The entire face rests in a smooth background field of the same stone.

The sculpture is in excellent condition; the eye inlays are chipped, as are the tip of the nose and part of the background field. The top of the head is unfinished, with heavy chisel marks, and flat.
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.

Sale, Sotheby and Co., London. [1]

From 1965 to 1966
Joseph H. Hirshhorn (1899-1981), purchased from Sotheby and Co., London in 1965. [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
Sotheby's (London)
On View Location
Currently not on view
Sculpture, Stone
man, Yemen
Collection(s) Area
Ancient Near Eastern Art
Web Resource(s)
Google Cultural Institute

Rights Statement
Copyright with museum

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