Collection of the objects from the Museo Nazionale d'Arte Orientale in Rome
The origins of the collection of South Arabian artifacts and inscriptions in the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale (MNAO) in Rome date back to the 1930s with the pieces brought to Rome by the Italian officers in Yemen and has grown thanks to the donations by Italian personalities like doctors and scholars working in the so called Arabia Felix in the following decades. Before the establishment of the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale, most of these pieces formed part of the collection of the Museo Nazionale Romano.
In addition to the scholarly publication by A. Jamme dating back to the 1950s, two important exhibitions held in Rome in 2000 and in 2012 were the occasion to display publicly these important testimonies of the flourishing South Arabian civilization. At present, the nearly 40 epigraphic and 60 anepigraphic objects which constitute the collection are held in the storerooms of the Museum, waiting for the setting up of the new rooms which will host the most significant pieces of the collection. The cataloguing in DASI seeks therefore to make the whole collection digitally available.
Most of the epigraphic pieces are Sabaic and date back to the first centuries AD, attesting the construction works and the cultic activities of the tribes living in the northern highlands of Yemen. From the al-Jawf area come some Minaic inscriptions. Although mainly fragmentary, the texts are beautifully carved and sometimes finely decorated, like the fragment of stela MNAO 13047.
The collection includes also stone, alabaster and bronze anepigraphic artifacts, among which plaques, incense burners, offering tables, stelae with human figures in relief, seals and sculptures in the round. The majority of these are funerary objects, as the MNAO hosts an important group of statuettes representing the deceased, mostly in a stylized way but sometimes with peculiar traits as for MNAO 13024. Reliefs of animals, plants and geometric motifs adorn the fragments of plaques.
The MNAO collection was inventoried in September 2013 by Irene Rossi, epigraphist of the project DASI, with the support of Paola D’Amore, museum curator of the Department of Ancient Near and Middle East of the MNAO. The inscriptions and objects were catalogued in DASI by Irene Rossi and Alexia Pavan. Photos are courtesy of the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale.
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