Art

Funerary Relief of a Woman and Two Children

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Funerary Relief of a Woman and Two Children, c. 150 CE
Sculpture
, Bust
Roman
,
2nd century CE
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Creation Place: Palmyra (Syria)
Limestone
71.5 cm h x 56.5 cm w x 27 cm d (28 1/8 x 22 1/4 x 10 5/8 in.)
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Alden Sampson, Richard Norton, and Edward W. Forbes
, 1908.3
Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art & Numismatics
,
Description
The relief depicts a woman in elaborate costume flanked by two children above, left and right. The monument has been dated by Harald Ingholt. The woman in the center is touching the edge of her veil with the usual gesture of her raised right hand; she holds a ceremonial object, like a cord with pomegranate tassels, against her upper stomach with the left hand. She wears jewelry where it is possible for display, from gold bands in the hair to triple-pendant earrings, to four different types of necklaces, to bracelets on both wrists, and, finally, to rings on her fingers.

The children behind her seem to be a young girl with a necklace or apron of fruits, on her right, and a slightly older boy on her left, a ceremonial tassel in his left hand.

There are three inscriptions on the relief. The one belonging to the woman is located to the right of the veil and extends to the left side of the head of the child on the right. It reads "daughter of Hayran, Alas!" The inscription to the right of the child on the right, belongs to that child and reads "Hayran, her son." The inscription on the left, belonging to the child on the left, reads "Simon, her son."

Catalogue entry from the publication: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman, and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums; Cornelius C. Vermeule and Amy Brauer, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 1990.
Commentary
Re-View Exhibition, Spring 2008, gallery label information:

At Palmyra, a caravan city on the eastern edge of the Roman Empire, bodies were placed in sarcophagi that were inserted into chambers sealed by carved capstones. The reliefs identified the entombed individuals. This slab with the bust of Ba'altega, daughter of Hayran, is a typical example. It draws attention to her family relations by naming her father and representing her two sons, Hayran and Simon. A similar emphasis on family may be found on the Greek Stele of Melisto (1961.86), to the left. Conspicuous display of adornment advertises the family's wealth. The woman touching her veil is a gesture derived from Greek tradition,
whereas Ba'altega's clothing-a headdress comprising bandeau, turban, and veil-and the frontality and stylized features of the composition set this monument firmly in a local, Palmyrene context.



Further commentary:

A head of a lady carved in the same style but with hair arranged somewhat differently has been placed by Harald Ingholt in Group II of the Palmyrene funerary monuments and dated about 150-200 CE (Comstock, Vermeule, 1976, p. 258, no. 404).

It has been observed that the object in the left hand of the Harvard relief might be a distaff or similar tool for spinning, but 'Ala the daughter of Iarhai in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, holds a similar thing almost horizontallly, and it looks like a folded whip with a pincone top. See Colledge, 1976, fig. 64. Since other Palmyrene men and women hold a variety of complex, symbolic objects in the left hand (although one man, in Paris, is clearly a scribe with stylus and tablets), it seems likely that this folded-over length of tassel on the end of a stick is a ticket of passage to a religious cult or the world beyond the tomb rather than a mere object of domestic industry. The pomegranates held in Palmyrene peoples' hands fall into the same category.
Provenance
Purchased by Richard Norton in Damascus.
Bibliography
Waldemar Déonna, "Collections archeologiques et historiques, Collections Fol, Salle des Armures, Collections lapidaires", Genava, ville de Geneve bulletin du Musee d'Art et d'Histoire (1923), vol. I, p. 52

Waldemar Déonna, "Monuments Orientaux du Musee de Geneve", Syria, Revue d'Art Oriental et d'Archeologie (1923), no. 4, p. 231

Harald Ingholt, Studier over palmyrenske skulptur, C.A. Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1928), pp. 132, ps 374, 158

Edward Waldo Forbes, Yankee Visionary, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1971), The Checklist, p. 150

Cornelius C. Vermeule, III, Greek and Roman Sculpture in America, University of California Press (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 1981), p. 380, no. 329

Cornelius C. Vermeule, III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 163, no. 149

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/Handbook, exh. cat., ed. Stephan Wolohojian (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008)

"[Reproduction Only]", Persephone, Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring 2011, p. 14.

Exhibition History
Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008
Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/22/2007 - 01/20/2008
Re-View: S422 Ancient & Byzantine Art & Numismatics, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/2008 - 06/18/2011
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