Sensitively carved in rich limestone, this intriguing seated figure memorializes an ancient South Arabian woman. It is typical of ancient sculptures from the Jawf region in Western Yemen, near the Red Sea. This was the ancient kingdom of Saba’, which was situated in the crossroads between Asia and Africa, a strategic locale for profiting from widely-used trade routes. The area was also rich in frankincense and myrrh, which were highly sought after in antiquity for their appealing fragrances.
It is likely that this sculpture had a funerary function, perhaps erected as a monument to a deceased family member. Anthropomorphic personal funerary sculptures have been found throughout ancient Saba’. They vary greatly in style and detail, some are seated while others are standing, some are carved from limestone and others from calcite alabaster. But all such sculptures are a testament to the enduring tradition of celebrating the individuality of the human, male and female alike.
With abstract stylized features and a schematic composition, this stately woman emerges from her block-like arrangement with her fists clenched above her now-missing knees. Her torso is bare, her rounded breasts situated between her arms. She wears a simple headdress that fringes her forehead and falls to her shoulders. Her broad almond-shaped eyes have the pupils deeply carved, and are recessed below the m-shaped brows that merge with her triangular nose, an effect that creates a play of shadow and light that animates her face.
Sculptures such as the present piece are among the few remaining vestiges of this mysterious and fascinating ancient culture that inhabited the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula in antiquity.
Private Collection, Switzerland, 1970s.
Exhibited: International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show,
October 16 - 22, 2009, Park Avenue Armory, New York