In 2015, ISIS seized the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. They proceeded to destroy many of the standing columns, temples, and tombs while gloating over their “accomplishments.” To make matters worse, they captured and beheaded the Khalel al-Asaad, a Syrian archeologist.
This morning, I visited the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades and was delighted to find an exhibit on loan of mostly funerary statuary from Palmyra, most of which comes from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. It was titled “Palmyra: Loss and Remembrance.”
It was a revelation to me. Palmyra was neither Roman nor Greek. Their language was a dialect of Aramaic, which was the language of the Holy Land during the life of Christ and for some time after. Most of the items on display were funerary busts and reliefs from the tower tombs that dotted the landscape. The facial expressions were surprisingly realistic, though with larger, more pronounced eyes than found in Greek and Roman sculpture.
Most women depicted in these sculptures were depicted holding a distaff and spindle in their hands. The statue above displays no such housewifely virtues. Instead she is bedecked with jewels on her headdress as well as her costume. The circles were once filled with precious and semi-precious stones which have disappeared in the course of time.
Naturally, I think ISIS’s actions in Palmyra and elsewhere show a total disregard for the antecedents of their own civilization. They will undoubtedly commit other barbaric crimes until this awful Jihadist movement is brought to account for their crimes against humanity.