A unique relief from South Arabia has arrived at the Hermitage – Rossiyskaya Gazeta


The stay in the Hermitage of Raphael’s “The Beautiful Gardener”, a guest from the Louvre, alas, ended, but she was replaced in the Apollo Hall of the Winter Palace by another amazing lady. A small but spectacular exhibition lined up around a South Arabian stele with a woman’s portrait dating from 100 AD. This item is part of the Al Thani Collection of the Qatar royal family. This is one of the most prestigious private collections in the world.

The South Arabian stele is the third artifact from the Al-Thani collection, which is shown in close-up at the Hermitage. Three years ago, in the same Apollo Hall, a dish from the era of the transition of pre-Islamic Egypt to Islam was exhibited, and last year – a Chinese dish from the 15th century. The artifact brought to St. Petersburg this time testifies to the links of the ancient East with the ancient world. According to Amin Jafer, curator of the Al-Thani Collection, this item was personally chosen by the director of the Hermitage, “it reflects the scientific interests of Professor Piotrovsky”, coincides with his specialization as an orientalist historian. After all, Mikhail Piotrovsky spent decades studying the history and culture of Yemen, and this is the south of the Arabian Peninsula.

The Hermitage has supplemented the artifact with items from its collection. It is a ring and buckle made of gold, most likely from Syria: they look like the gold jewelry of the woman depicted on the stele. The preservation of these jewelry is amazing. The Hermitage temporarily moved the hall to Apollo, in particular, the South Arabian tombstones, since the relief from the Al-Thani Collection is considered a funeral portrait. An unknown master depicted either the woman for whose burial this sculpture was made, or the patron goddess of this woman.

“As part of our cooperation with the Al-Thani Collection, we bring a masterpiece every time and supplement it with items from the Hermitage, creating a kind of narrative,” Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the Hermitage, told RG. – And look how our collection has played. After all, our objects, originating from South Arabia, are small and visually not so expressive. The relief brought this time is bright, expressive, it stunningly demonstrates the strength of the Yemeni civilization. And he so successfully collects all the items with which we supplemented him into a single whole. These items are not only Hermitage: bronze tablets with penitential inscriptions were provided to us by the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences. These tablets record that women have repented before the deity; speech about the violation of the ritual dress code. The tablets can remind you of the notes that today’s believers leave at the shrines.

As Piotrovsky noted, in the main exhibit of the exhibition – a funeral portrait – strict oriental features were combined with antique tenderness. The portrait is carved out of alabaster, the woman raised her bent right hand so that the palm is turned to the beholder, the left hand squeezes the ears. They, like jewelry on a woman, are made of gold. In antiquity, sculptures were adorned with jewels, the same Venus of Tauride, one of the pearls of the Hermitage collection, had ears pierced: once they had earrings inserted into them, perhaps such as those of this Arabian lady. As a rule, ancient sculpture comes to us without decorations.

“These jewelry are attached to alabaster with thin pins,” explained Jasper Gant, curator of ancient art at the Al-Thani Collection, to RG. – The safety of the relief is amazing, because it did not even have to be restored, only cleaning was carried out. There are two known reliefs of this type in the world, maximum three dozen. But what else is unique about this portrait, besides the preservation of the jewelry? He is much larger than the others, which, apparently, speaks of the high status of women. Perhaps she was even of royal blood.

Attention is drawn to the look of a stone lady. She has huge eyes, inlaid with semiprecious stones and gold (in this, researchers see the influence of ancient masters). Eyeballs, possibly made of marble, are framed with bronze eyelashes. The eyebrows are also made of bronze, but they are partially lost.

This exhibition is important in a European context: in November in Paris, the Al-Thani Collection opens to the public. For this, France provided the building built for Louis XV for twenty years. It will become the home of the collection. This exposition will open without the alabaster woman, which is now in the Hermitage, but then it is planned to show it in Paris. That exposition will be regularly updated. And of course, the Hermitage exhibition, testifying to the influence of the Roman Empire in the East, has a diplomatic message, reminds of the close ties between different peoples. And building bridges between countries is a topic of particular relevance today.


Source: Российская Газета by rg.ru.

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