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HOME : Classical Antiquities : Archive : Roman Marble Sarcophagus
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Roman Marble Sarcophagus - PF.0309
Origin: Italy
Circa: 100 AD to 250 AD
Dimensions: 18" (45.7cm) high x 72" (182.9cm) wide x 21" (53.3cm) depth
Catalogue: V1
Collection: Roman
Medium: Marble

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: United States
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A masterpiece of classical stonecarving, this exquisite sarcophagus depicts the deceased-- whose portrait appears in a scallop shell--being carried to the Isles of the Blessed by Tritons, Nereids and other fantastic sea creatures. The carving of the individual figures is robust, while the entire, complex scene is beautifully balanced. In its voluptuous vision of the afterlife, this is a splendid evocation of the sunset of life in the pagan worldview.

An interesting point of note is that the figures at opposite corners of the sarcophagus, mirror images of one another, are those of Europa clinging to the neck of Zeus in the form of a bull. In the myth that this depicts, Zeus fell in love with a Phoenician princess named Europa and, transforming himself into a bull, he carried her across the sea to the island of Crete, where she bore the infant King Minos. While obviously in keeping with the maritime theme of the sarcophagus, the choice to incorporate this particular myth is intriguing, perhaps evoking the archetype of a woman being carried off by a divinity to a far-off isle.

The Romans variously chose cremation or interment for their dead. The choice of one over the other was governed by many factors, not least of which was monetary, but also was a matter of the customs for each particular time period. Either way, the Romans showed great respect for their dead, dedicating grave steles and monuments to even the smallest of children. As with modern society, the Romans held varying forms of belief about the afterlife. The most widely accepted and traditional view was that all the dead went to live in Hades – the underworld ruled by the deity bearing that name, who was also known to the Romans as Pluto – and only the very few were carried to the Isles of the Blessed where they were granted immortality.

We see many touching epitaphs to deceased Roman wives, husbands and children whose surviving relatives shared the same deep emotions of love and loss that we feel today. In looking at such pieces, we see that while the century may have changed, human nature has not. Looking at this sarcophagus, we catch a glimpse of the very real feelings of loss felt by this woman’s loved ones, as well as their hope for her safety and happiness in the afterlife. This is a mirror of our own emotions of love and loss, and the common hope for a life after death – the continued existence of our dear departed. - (PF.0309)


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