Southern Arabia, near modern day Yemen, Sabaean people, ca. late 1st millennium BCE to early 1st millennium CE. An incredibly rare figure of a woman, hand-carved from chalky-white limestone, shown standing and wearing an unadorned, calf-length dress. Her stylized face exhibits offset, almond-shaped eyes with drilled pupils which likely held inlaid stone or shell adornments at one time. A slender triangular nose, incised lips and eyebrows, and a prominent chin define her feminine countenance, and her carefully-incised coiffure falls to her shoulders in tight curls accentuated with applied brown pigment. Her arms are bent at the elbows and held outward at her waistline. Her feet are bare and stand flat atop an integral rectangular plinth. Size: 4" W x 13.625" H (10.2 cm x 34.6 cm).
During the first millennium BCE, this part of the world saw several kingdoms - Qataban, Saba (Sheba), and Himyar - emerge that had built their wealth upon desert trade and, in particular, frankincense and myrrh. The people of these kingdoms created many figural representations from limestone, alabaster, and similar stones, many of which were flat panels with high relief faces depicting the dead and made to mark tombs. It is of much greater rarity to find full three-dimensional statues like this one, clearly intended to be viewed from all angles. They were most likely made to be placed into tombs as votive offerings - acts of piety, designed to invoke the favor of a god, but also serving as public displays of wealth and status. Today they are fascinating not only for their haunting, clearly ancient beauty, but also for giving us an idea of what hair and clothing styles would have looked like in the past.
For a stylistically-similar example of a male carved from alabaster, please see The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 1982.317.3: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/326695
Another stylistically-similar alabaster example of a female hammered for $37,500 at Christie's, New York Antiquities Auction (sale 2450, June 9, 2011, lot 30): https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/ancient-art-antiquities/a-south-arabian-alabaster-female-figure-circa-5443213-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=5443213&sid=bf835258-1840-462c-8b74-7e7f975a00b4
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection; ex-Neil Phillips collection, New York, USA, acquired in the 1970s
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Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age, losses to both hands, corners of base, and parts of coiffure, fading to pigmentation around head, with fading to some finer details, and yellowing to natural stone color. Nice earthen deposits throughout.