Roman Period Marble Head of Elijah

SKU LK.092
Circa

2nd Century AD to 4th Century AD

Dimensions

9″ (22.9cm) high x 5.5″ (14.0cm) wide

Medium

Marble

Origin

Mediterranean

Gallery Location

S Korea


 

This lugubrious head is believed to represent the prophet Elijah, and as such is an extremely important and rare work. Elijah lived during the 9th century BC, and appears in the Old and New Testament, the Ku’ran, the Mishnah and the Talmud. Famed with the ability to raise the dead, bring down fire from the heavens and to ascend there on a whirlwind, he is also believed to be reincarnated in the form of Jesus and John the Baptist. Such was his importance that many Jews still await his return, which will presage the return of the Messiah. Despite his obvious importance to various faiths, however, comparatively little is known about him. Equally, he is rarely represented in artworks, other than in heavily religious paintings of the Renaissance. Sculpturally there are few representations worldwide, and those that exist are usually from the past 100 years or so. This piece is therefore something of a rarity.

The head is elongated and hirsute, framed with a full head of curly hair that appears to be gathered dorsally, running around to full sideburns and a large, seemingly forked beard with distinct moustache. The face is that of a mature man, with distinct wrinkles on the forehead, slightly creased cheeks and hollows under the eyes. The forehead is relatively low, thus elongating the face between the eyebrows and the mouth, and expressionistic in the ‘T’ format of the prominent eyebrows and the long, slender nose. The eyes are large, with finely chiselled rims and blank centres, contributing to his generally morose expression. The quality of the carving is excellent, with rough textures and shapes in the hair and beard contrasting with the carefully ground facial features.

The original purpose of the carving is unclear. The base indicates that it was originally part of a larger piece, presumably a full-length statue or perhaps a bust, and its size suggests that it would have been a public figure rather than the focus of a domestic, small-scale shrine. The Roman Empire’s attitude to Christianity was inflexibly intolerant until relatively late – third to fourth century AD – and it is probable that the piece dates to around this time. This is therefore a good example of Middle Eastern philosophy and religion permeating Roman sculptural traditions, in the same way that Greek sculptural techniques (which travelled along with Alexander the Great) infiltrated the iconographic traditions of Central Asia to produce the Gandhara style some six centuries earlier. This is a socioculturally important piece with strong religious significance to a wide range of faiths, and a true classical masterwork.

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