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Palmyra

Through December 14, 2015
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

An exquisitely sculpted bust of a woman from ancient Palmyra in Syria has returned to view for the first time since 2006. Named “Haliphat,” the limestone funerary relief depicts an elegant, bejeweled figure that combines both Roman and Eastern characteristics. According to the Aramaic inscription behind Haliphat, she died in 231 CE, when Palmyra, “city of palms,” was one of the wealthiest Roman trading cities between the Mediterranean, Iran, and South Asia. A newly created 3-D scan of Haliphat will be released for viewing and download at a later date as part of the Smithsonian X 3D Collection.

Accompanying the bust is a video screen that shows Félix Bonfils’ evocative 1860s photographs of Palmyra. Also featured are images from a recent gift to the F|S Library, a copy of Robert Wood’s The Ruins of Palmyra, completed in 1753. Wood’s work was one of the most influential publications of the eighteenth century, providing inspiration for countless neoclassical architects in Britain and North America. Its image of an “Eagle Decorating an Ancient Roman Temple” was the model for the image on the seal of the United States, and its depictions of Palmyra’s coffered ceilings inspired the ceiling of the Freer Gallery’s north entrance.

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Funerary Relief Bust
Map of Palmyra
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The Freer is closed for renovation and reopening in 2017. The Sackler remains open, with a full lineup of exhibitions and events both in the museum and around DC.