8th or 9th century AD
limestone, carved and painted
Islamic royal ceremonial, which grew in splendour as the power of the caliphate waned, was already highly developed at the Abbasid court in 9th- and 10th-century Baghdad. Although the Abbasids were not self-consciously antiquarian, their court protocol was clearly in the tradition of their Sasanian predecessors.
This head, which was attached to the matrix rock at the back, must be from a frieze which decorated the audience hall of a ruler’s palace. The diadem is of recognisably Iranian type, and the curls at the forehead, although not the side locks, are paralleled in 9th-century paintings of slave soldiers from Samarra in Iraq. The features evidently owe a good deal to a Buddhist prototype, perhaps a bodhisattva. Among the few relevant published sources are the paintings of Balalyk-Tepe in southern Uzbekistan (5th–6th century) and of the ruler’s palace at the site of Kala-i Kakhkakha, phase II (datable to the 8th century), medieval Bunjikath in northern Tajikistan.
J.M. Rogers, The Arts of Islam. Masterpieces from the Khalili Collection, London 2010, cat.155, pp.130–31.