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  SABA
Marib and Timna by an unknown artist
Marib and Timna by an unknown artist
[08/March/2004] Sana`a, (Saba)-At a Suffolk market auction a few years ago, Mrs Elizabeth Fitzpatrick spotted, and successfully bid for, a folio of pencil sketches (on board) of monuments in Marib and Timna. The sketches intrigued her because she had visited both places during a tour of Yemen. Earlier this year she consulted a member of the Society, Merilyn Hywel-Jones, about the pictures with a view to establishing their approximate date and the identity of the artist, whose signature she had been unable to decipher.
The folio included seven drawings of Marib: various parts of the Temple of Awwam (Mahram Bilqis), the Temple of Bara’am [Bara’an], the Marib Dam and the ‘modern’ town; two drawings of Timna (Beihan): the Temple of Athtar and the South Gate; and one of the mound at Hajr bin Humaid nearby. (Unconnected, but by the same artist was a particularly fine sketch of St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai.) Four of the Marib drawings are reproduced with this note by kind permission of Mrs Fitzpatrick.

As the sketches appeared to have been done while excavations were under way at both sites, Merilyn Hywel-Jones thought it likely that they dated from the first major archaeological expedition to South Arabia in 1950-52, sponsored by the American foundation for the Study of Man (AFSM) and led by Wendell Phillips. The expedition spent its first and second seasons in Beihan, and its third, ill-fated season (July 1951-February 1952) in Marib; no further scientific excavation took place in Marib until the 1980s. The story of how Wendell Phillips obtained permission from the Imam to dig at Marib, of the expedition’s difficulties there and dramatic flight across the border to Beihan, is told in Phillips’ book, Qataban and Sheba (1955); the team were forced to abandon most of their finds and personal belongings but managed to take with them their field notebooks, site plans and photographs. Carl Phillips included an assessment of the importance of the AFSM’s work in his article Archaeological Research in Yemen, published in the BYSJ Vol.4, 1996.

A curious fact to emerge from examining the illustrations in Qataban and Sheba is that all the sketches, including that of St Catherine’s Monastery, closely match photographs in the book; indeed several of them include figures of labourers/soldiers shown in the photographs. This suggests that the sketches were drawn from the photographs. But they were clearly drawn by someone with a trained eye and practised hand, and it seems probable that the artist was involved in some capacity with the expedition and that the drawings were done soon after the photographs were taken i.e. in the early 1950s. Discoloration of the white board on which the sketches were drawn reinforces this probability.



The next question to address was the identity of the artist. Each drawing bears the artist’s signature, with a descriptive note on the back as shown in Fig. 1. It is possible that the signature is formed from two initials: ‘0’ followed by an elaborated ‘R’ or ‘K’ and a terminal flourish, but this reading is only tentative. The AFSM expedition’s Field Staff included a certain Octave (‘Ocky’) Romaine who participated as photographer in their first season in Beihan. He also accompanied Wendell Phillips on a visit to St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai (where the AFSM also had a project) in 1951, but there is no evidence in Qataban and Sheba that he visited Marib. If any reader has any thoughts on the identity of the artist, please write and let us know.

The provenance of the folio and how it found its way to an English country sale-room remains a mystery; several years have elapsed since the auction took place and details of the vendor are no longer available.
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UPDATED ON : Sun, 22 Jul 2018 20:37:30 +0300