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Palmyra: An Exquisite Bust, Woods Engravings and Bonfils Photographs

June 11, 2015. The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, in recognition of the perils facing the magnificent site of Palmyra and other important Syrian and Iraqi monuments now in ISIS hands, is displaying an extraordinary stone bust of a woman named “Haliphat” from third century AD Palmyra. The bust reflects both Roman and Aramaic artistic influences and the cosmopolitan character of the ancient city-state.

The museum has featured the funerary relief in a new 3-D scan that will be downloadable online. The woman in the relief is elaborately coiffed and wears an elegant costume and jewelry, parts of which show traces of the polychromatic decoration that was applied to the stone in ancient times.

The Freer-Sackler display of the bust includes a selection of engravings by Robert Woods. Woods’ 1753 The Ruins of Palmyra inspired neoclassical architecture in the US and Britain. His illustration of an eagle decorating an ancient Roman temple was the model for the eagle on the seal of the United States.

The Freer-Sackler display also includes photographs of the ruins of Palmyra made between 1867-1876 by the photographer Fèlix Bonfils, founder of the popular photographic studio Maison Bonfils, which produced thousands of fine photographs of the Near East in the late nineteenth century. On show indefinitely at the museum.

Images: Haliphat, Funerary relief bust, 3rd century (dated 231 C.E.) Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Museum. Photograph of ruins of Palmyra, Fèlix Bonfils, 1867-1876.

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