Alabaster (gypsum); H. 9 7/16 in. (24 cm)
Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Spear Jr. Gift, 1982 (1982.317.1)
This fine male portrait head is thought to date from the middle of the first millennium A.D. and may have been part of a larger royal sculpture. The figure is wearing a stylized laurel wreath, a symbol of high rank. The use of the wreath to denote status reflects the influence of the Greco-Roman world and appears in more realistic form on the coins of the kingdom of Himyar from the first centuries B.C. and A.D. A long mustache drapes each side of the mouth, the chin is bearded, and a single ringlet is carefully carved on the surface of the left cheek. This last detail is undoubtedly significant since it is, to this day, characteristic of the hairstyle of Yemeni Jews. In the fourth century A.D., many of the kings of Himyar were converted to Judaism, so this feature may eventually aid in the identification of the figure. Carved from translucent alabaster with beautifully polished surfaces, this portrait is a notable example of the art of ancient Arabia.