Lot 73
  • 73

A South Arabian Funerary Stele Representing a Priestess or Goddess, Qatabān, circa late 1st century B.C.

30,000 - 50,000 GBP
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  • A South Arabian Funerary Stele Representing a Priestess or Goddess, Qatabān
  • alabaster
  • 42.7 by 29.5 cm.
carved in high relief with the bust of a woman emerging from a semi-circle, raising her right hand with palm out, clasping ears of grain in her left hand against her chest, and wearing bracelets, the frame above decorated with a row of nine stylised ibex heads flanked by false windows, the frame below engraved with a nine-letter Qatabanic inscription reading from right to left, Fys²t Nḍḥn (Fayšat [of the clan of] Naḍḥān).


said to have been found at Timna, the Qatabanian capital
Captain John Aylward (1929-1986), R.A., F.I.C.S., Birmingham, acquired in South Arabia in 1958 (Sotheby & Co., London, July 13th, 1970, no. 16, illus.)
Paul Delplace, Antiquités. Bijoux-objets de collection, 30, rue de Namur, Brussels, acquired at the above sale
acquired from the above by the current owner's father
by descent to the present owner


Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham, May-December 1960
Birmingham City and Art Museum Gallery, 1960-1970
In Celebration: Works of Art from the Collections of Princeton Alumni and Friends of The Art Museum, Princeton University, February 22nd-June 8th, 1997


In Celebration: Works of Art from the Collections of Princeton Alumni and Friends of The Art Museum, Princeton University, exh. cat., Princeton, 1997, p. 9. no. 5
Corpus of South Arabian Inscriptions, no. I, 270 (http://dasi.humnet.unipi.it/index.php?id=80&prjId=1&corId=14&colId=0&navId=617265948&recId=4347)


As shown. Note chipped nose and chip on lower left inner edge. Chips and abrasions along edges. Ancient hole drilled through on each side of head. Bronze pins partially preserved. Slab fitted in modern copper frame resting on copper base.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This type of stele belongs to a homogeneous group of funerary monuments, of which about thirty examples are known, both fragmentary and intact, in various Yemeni and Western museums (British Museum in London, Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, etc.), as well as in private collections. Based on iconographic and palaeographic evidence, they were carved between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D.

The position of the proper right arm, with the palm of the hand facing out, is a common gesture in Near Eastern and Mediterranean civilisations; it is a sign of protection specific to deities, but it was also customary among men and women, ministers of worship and kings, as a way to express veneration and adoration. The ears of grain held in the left hand are a symbol of fertility. On the upper part of the frame is a frieze of nine ibex heads (the sacred animal par excellence in South-Arabian culture), flanked by “false window” architectural motifs made of concentric recessing rectangles.

Fayšat is a female name (see Ja 160); Naḍḥān is a family name, already recorded on other steles found at Ḥayd bin'Aqīl (see Ja 351, RES 3902), the necropolis of Tamna', capital of the Kingdom of Qatabān.

Two holes, one on each side of the figure's neck, still contain bronze pins, which were probably used to fasten the stele to a wall.

For related examples and discussions of the type see R. Cleveland, An Ancient South Arabian Necropolis. Objects from the Second Campaign (1951) in the Timna‘ Cemetery (PAFSM IV), Baltimore, 1965, p. 22, pl. 41 (inv. nos. TC 553, 648, 709, and 726), p. 23, pl. 41 (TC 1358), p. 24, pl. 41 (TC 1662), and p. 26-27, pl. 51 (TC 2530), J. Pirenne, "Notes d'archéologie sud-arabe, I: Stèles à la déesse Dhât Ḥimyam (Ḥamîm)," Syria, vol. 37, 1960, pp. 326-347, A. Avanzini, "The 'stèles à la déesse': problems of interpreting and dating," Egitto e Vicino Oriente, vol. 27, 2004, pp. 145-152, and S. Antonini de Maigret, South Arabian Art. Art History in Pre-Islamic Yemen (Orient & Méditerranée 10), Paris, 2012, pp. 99-101.