- Museum number
Carved calcite-alabaster sculpture of head; female, long hair, bunched below the ears, folds designated by rough pecking or incision on lower portion, and more careful cross-hatched incision on the top of the head; lightly rounded cheeks; slightly forked chin; series of three folds on the neck; plain drilled nostrils; simple incised mouth, infilled with red material identified as plaster coloured with red ochre (haematite) which was used to hold in place a fragment of red glass (which has largely weathered to green); incised eyebrows and eye-sockets filled with white plaster, inlaid with strips of cobalt-blue glass, partly weathered to dark and almost blackish colour, indicating the eyebrows, pupils and eye-liner.
- Production date
- 1stC BC-1stC
Height: 15 centimetres
Thickness: 7 centimetres
Width: 12 centimetres
- Curator's comments
This sculptured head belongs to a type which was originally inset and secured with plaster in a hollowed niche near the top of a rectangular stone block, with an inscription added on the surrounding frame giving the name of the deceased.
traces of fibrous reddish material trapped near the corners of the eyes but this appears to be part of a previous attempt to wrap or clean the object (examination in Scientific Research, 7/6/04).
Bowers catalogue entry (unpublished):
This exquisite head of a lady is made of the usual fine calcite-alabaster which was typically used by ancient South Arabian craftsmen but is exceptional in having many of the original inlays still surviving. These therefore give a rare but vivid idea of the original and highly coloured appearance of this type of ancient South Arabian sculpture. They have been specially analysed in the British Museum. The grooved mouth was inlaid with a single strip of red glass, now partly decomposed to a green colour, and secured with gypsum paste, which had been coloured red with ochre (hematite), presumably in order to avoid the effect of having white outlines around the red glass inlay; a similar technique was used on earlier Phoenician ivories excavated at Nimrud in Mesopotamia, where the lapis lazuli inlays had been secured in place with blue paste. The eyebrows, irises and eye-liner on this South Arabian head were indicated with inlaid strips of glass coloured blue with cobalt. The variation in the colour of the blue glass, which varies from bright blue to a dark and almost black colour, is probably simply the result of weathering. The whites of the eyes are more difficult to define but are most probably of moulded gypsum paste, rather than separately inlaid shell or bone. This small sculpture was originally set into a hollowed niche near the top of a rectangular stone block which was inscribed with the name of the person commemorated by this stylised head. Such funerary stelae are now believed to possibly date from the 6th-4th centuries BC although this style of head may have continued to be made for several centuries.
This head was presented in Sanaa by Sayf al-Islam al-Badr (1929-1996), then Crown Prince of Yemen and later to become the last King of Yemen, to Daniel Rundstrőm, the father of the previous owner, in recognition of his safe flying. Rundstrőm was a Swedish pilot who worked between August 1952 - May 1956 as the personal pilot for the Crown Prince and the ruler of Yemen, Imam Ahmad (d. 1962), son of Imam Yahya (d. 1948). This was a complex political period in the history of Yemen as the ruler sought to break the country’s previous political and economic isolation, yet there were regular border disputes between Yemen and the British Protectorate of Aden throughout the 1950s. During this time Rundstrőm met King Saud of Saudi Arabia, and even flew Muslim pilgrims on the hajj to Mecca. Planes were something of an exotic commodity in the Middle East, and particularly Yemen, at that time, so it is not surprising that this exceptionally beautiful object was given as a personal present.
- On display (G53/dc2)
- Exhibition history
2007- 11 Jun-, BM, G53/South Arabia/2
2006 13 Apr-Dec, BM, G2/62
2004-2005 17 Oct-13 Mar, California, Bowers Museum, 'Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality'
- Complete; missing part of inlay in the mouth; coloured glass inlays weathered and partly discoloured; these inlays consolidated (2004) but great care must be taken in handling or packing not to touch or dislodge these.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- This object was presented to Daniel Rundström in Sanaa while he was staying at the Guesthouse of King Ahmed of Yemen at some point between August 1952 and May 1956 (ANE Correspondence 2003: Vincent Jones, 2004: Nils & Daniel Rundström). The object was sold to the Museum by his son, Nils Rundström but had shortly before been entered on deposit at Christie's South Kensington where it was assigned the stock number X Y99.1.
- Middle East
- Registration number