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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: 17.1 x 13.2 x 10.1 cm (6 3/4 x 5 3/16 x 4 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn to the Smithsonian Institution
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
Head of a bearded male, of transluscent alabaster. Highly modelled, probably meant to be viewed only from the front. The facial features rendered in some detail. The eyes are modelled, with no pupil or eyebrows represented. The ears protrude perpendicular to the head, with some interior detail is incised into the ears for schematic rendering. The nose is straight, with nostrils indicated, and the mouth is represented by a thin grooved incision between the two modelled lips. The beard, which stretches from ear to ear, is represented as a semicircular ledge below the chin. The front edge of the beard is smoothed, but the bottom edge is not. The entire face rests in a smooth background field of the same stone.

The sculpture is in good condition, with some minor scratches on the otherwise smooth and polished front surface. The tip of the nose is broken, and the back surface is unfinished, with several heavy chisel marks. The top of the head, and the side and bottom edges of the fragment bear signs of heavy alteration and/or chiselling.
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)
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

As renovation work continues in the Freer Gallery, the Sackler Gallery also will close on July 10, 2017. This museum-wide closure will allow us to completely reinstall our exhibitions and revitalize features to improve your visit. Both spaces will reopen on October 14, 2017, when we will welcome the public back to the Freer|Sackler: two galleries, one destination. For your safety, all visitors will have their bags checked. See the complete list of restricted items and bag sizes.