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Roman Sarcophagus with Ariadne

Roman Sarcophagus with Ariadne



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3D Image

Sarcophagus with Ariadne sleeping, 280 CE. Marble, Rome, Ny Carlsberg glyptotek (Copenhagen, Denmark). Made with Memento Beta (now ReMake) from AutoDesk.

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Flower Pot Turns Out to be Roman Sarcophagus

OXFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND – In a twist of events, an antiques expert visiting Blenheim Palace realized that one of the building’s flower pots was actually an ornately carved ancient Roman coffin.

It was just a routine visit, official business, according to the palace manager. The flower pot itself had long been a feature on the estate. It’d arrived at Blenheim Palace in the 19th century, and was originally used to collect water from a natural spring. In the 20th century, the piece was later incorporated into the estate’s rock garden. When the antiques expert found the coffin, it was filled with potting soil, and tulips were sprouting up from it.

“[The expert] happened to see it,” palace spokesman Jonathan Prince told the New York Times. He also said that the piece was not for sale, and would remain at Blenheim palace.

The palace manager called in Nicholas Barnfield, an architectural stone and sculpture expert working with Cliveden Conservation. He and his team carefully removed the coffin from its place in the rock garden and transported it to their workshop, where they carefully cleaned and restored it.

The sarcophagus is made from marble, and features Dionysus, the Roman god of wine and parties, leaning on a satyr. Hercules and Ariadne are also depicted on the piece, as well as some lion heads. Nicholas Barnfield explained that these depictions were meant to “[usher] you into the afterlife in a nice drunken happy state, a merry state.”

The coffin isn’t merely a pretty piece of marble, though. It also has immense historical value. Due to the time at which it was carved, it represents a change in ancient Roman culture.

“It is indicative of when the Romans shifted from burning their dead to interring them,” Nicholas Barnfield explained. “So it is a coffin.”

The marble coffin is over seventeen centuries old, and though some damage does remain from its years of use as a fountain and flowerpot, respectively, it’s still in amazingly beautiful condition.

“There are two or three gardens around Britain that have quite significant artifacts in their gardens. But not of this quality. Some of them can be quite plain. This one is exquisite. It is jewel-like in its carving.” – Nicholas Barnfield.

The piece has no inscriptions on it to tell us who it was made for. The archaeologists working on it aren’t even sure if someone was ever buried inside of it. All we know that is that it must have been made for someone with quite a lot of money, since it’s so beautifully made.

For now, the coffin remains safe at Blenheim Palace. It has been fully restored by Barnfield and his team, and is now on display inside the building.


Images of Paradise

The myth of Bacchus and Ariadne begins with the Greek hero Theseus. The Athenian hero Theseus, snuck onto the island of Crete in order to slay the vicious Minotaur. With the help of the princess Ariadne, Theseus successfully defeats the beast. He falls in love with Ariadne, but only for a short time. As they escape Crete, Theseus and Ariadne stop to rest on the island of Naxos. While Ariadne sleeps, Theseus sails away, abandoning her on the deserted island. While Ariadne rests the god of wine, Bacchus, comes upon her and instantly falls in love. Ariadne eventually becomes his immortal wife.

“After he [Minos] conquered the Athenians their revenues became his he decreed, moreover that each year they should send seven of their children as food for the Minotaur. After Theseus had come from Troezene, and had learned what a calamity afflicted the state, of his own accord he promised to go against the Minotaur . . .

When Theseus came to Crete, Ariadne, Minos’ daughter, loved him so much that she betrayed her brother and saved the stranger, or she showed Theseus the way out of the Labyrinth. When Theseus had entered and killed the Minotaur, by Ariadne’s advise he got out by unwinding the thread. Ariadne, because she had been loyal to him, he took away, intending to marry her.

Theseus, detained by a storm on the island of Dia [Naxos], though it would be a reproach to him hif he brought Ariadne to Athens, and so he left her asleep on the island. Liber [Dionysos], falling in love with her, took her from there as his wife.”

– Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 40 – 43

Themes and Motifs

The coming of Bacchus onto the island of Naxos approaching a sleeping Ariadne symbolizes the crossing of the divine (the living) and the mortal (the dead) or the passage of the dead to a better life. The representation of this myth on a sarcophagus could allude to the death of a woman receiving redemption after life at the hands of her savior, a god.[1] The sleeping Ariadne and the fixated Bacchus could also evoke the notion of separated lovers. The eventual marriage of the two could also refer to an eventual happy reunion and eternal love of a husband and wife in the afterlife.[2] A portrait of the deceased was commonly used as the face of Ariadne. This directly linked the deceased to the blissfully sleeping mortal woman while also alluding to her earthly beauty. As with the Selene and Endymion sarcophagi, sleep closely relates to death in this context.

Though many artists depict this moment of abandonment as tragic, the Bacchus and sleeping Ariadne sarcophagi that came from Roman workshops show Bacchic joy and happiness. This theme on a sarcophagus gives the message that the two lovers were happy during their lives and they lived life to the fullest. By showing this exact moment, the sarcophagus evokes the idea of letting the deceased, as she sleeps now, dream of these pleasures eternally while her beloved approaches her, looking on with a loving gaze. There is an everlasting love and yet a never-ending longing of the two lovers to be reunited one day to forever partake in the celebrations of life.[3] In a way, resurrection is the same as Ariadne awakening. Because sleep is temporary, she has the ability to wake up and live forever in her dreams. For now though, the deceased sleeps, dreaming of a pleasurable and divine world. To the Romans this myth meant that there was still hope of salvation for their “sleeping” loved ones.

This sarcophagus of Bacchus approaching Ariadne dates from circa 190—200 AD and is currently on display at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (Figure 17). The artists makes the approach of Bacchus to Ariadne busy with the inclusion of several maenads and satyrs throughout the scene. Ariadne rests her head in the lap of Thanatos, the god of death (Figure 17, Detail A).

This brings the viewer to the literal conclusion that her sleep equates to death. Eros brings the god toward the sleeping maiden’s direction. Several satyrs pull away Ariadne’s clothing to reveal her naked body. This is a similar gesture found in some Selene and Endymion sarcophagi. The viewer is meant to be also enamored by her naked body as Bacchus was. More literally than other sarcophagi, Bacchus is able to bring Ariadne out of the hands of death and into divine celebration. [4]

This sarcophagus from circa 130—150 AD, currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the most rooted in myth of all the other sarcophagi (Figure 18). Rather than the single moment of Bacchus coming upon Ariadne being the focus, two other moments from the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur are depicted.

This example of a cyclic compositions shows the moment when Ariadne first gives Theseus the thread to find his way through the labyrinth (Figure 18, Detail A), the scene just as Theseus slays the monster (Figure 18, Detail B), and when Ariadne is abandoned on Naxos (Figure 18, Detail C).

Each scene is beautifully separated by draped garlands held up by large Erotes. Unlike the other examples of Ariadne and Bacchus, Bacchus has not appeared yet. Theseus is still in the midst of abandoning the woman on Naxos. She sleeps below what appears to be some sort of fruit bearing tree which may allude to the events to follow. Erotes playing about line the lid.

Though Bacchus does not appear, the sleeping figure, Ariadne, is still present and the allusions that come along with sleep still apply. She is evening in the same reclining position as the other sarcophagi. Those who viewed this sarcophagus would see this and think of the salvation that is still possible for their loved one.

This sarcophagus from circa 235 AD most likely originated from a workshop in Rome and is currently on display at the Louvre (Figure 19). The composition of this sarcophagus is compact and lively. Bacchus appears still among his dancing and celebrating companions as he looks on at Ariadne. The face of the mortal is blank suggesting that the portrait of the deceased would have been placed there (Figure 19, Detail A).

The artist attempted to calm the chaos by grouping each of the figures by twos and threes. Ariadne’s position on the right is balanced out by a reclining maenad on the opposite side of the scene. There is a real sense of joy and merriment in this composition, much like the Bacchic celebrations of other sarcophagi. Unlike those sarcophagi, the message of sleep and the specific myth screams louder than the noisy thiasos. The hope for a divine savior, the thought that she may be dreaming of such divine parties, and the eventual reunion with a beloved were the primary messages in addition to a celebration of life’s pleasures.[5]

[1] Paul Zanker, “Reading images without texts on Roman sarcophagi,” Res 61/62 (2012), 173-174

[2] Karl Lehmann-Hartleben and Erling Olsen, Dionysiac Sarcophagi in Baltimore (Baltimore: Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1942), 39-40

[3] Paul Zanker, “Reading images without texts on Roman sarcophagi,” Res 61/62 (2012), 176

[4] “Sarcophagus with Dionysus and Ariadne.” The Walters Art Museum. Accessed December 1, 2015. http://art.thewalters.org/detail/23618/sarcophagus-with-dionysus-and-ariadne/

[5] Paul Zanker and Bjon Ewald, Living with Myths: The Imagery of Roman Sarcophagi, trans. Julia Slater (Oxford University Press, 2012), 132


Rome:The Vatican

While visiting the major antiquity museums of Rome I was naïve to think that finding handfuls of Dionysian sarcophagi would be easy. In the end I found every medium but the sarcophagi. I came to the hopeful conclusion that the Vatican must be hoarding all of them. When I finally made it to the Vatican Museums however, I could not have estimated just how many of the sarcophagi they had. I was used to looking at 3-5 sarcophagi in one museum, the Vatican, on the other hand, had approximately 20 well in tact Dionysian sarcophagi. For the most part, however, they were neither labeled nor dated (although any early Christian sarcophagus had more than enough information in the description, but I don’t hold grudges) I suppose I must be a bit more positive, I did find nearly 20 more sarcophagi than I expected, and while the Vatican may not be interested in the details of these pieces, they did not destroy them altogether. Luckily, a few of the Early-Christian sarcophagi displayed pastoral scenes linking to Dionysus. 1.) Sarcophagus with “grand pastoral” themes and polychrome decorations. Late 3rd-early 4 C AD. Found on the Massimo estate at the Tor Sapienza, Via Prenestira. Left- Shepard with a ram on his shoulders and dog at his feet. Shepard/bucolic scene follows with sheep, rams, goats resting/fighting/playing. Shepard being pushed by 2 oxen with WINE SKIN. Orans figure to the right. (not christian) Front-Hunters and dogs during hare hunt. Also winged cupids picking flowers next to portrait of deceased. 2.) Sarcophagus with Bucolic Scenes and 3 Sheperds. 370-380 AD. Front- 3 sheperds with sheep on their shoulders standing on decorated pedestals. (side ones with masks, center with griffons and tripod) Between there is a large vineyard with winged cupids harvesting grapes. On left cupid figure milks a goat and one holds a lamb. On the right there is a grape-pressing scene as Pysche gives grapes to a genius. Left- above-genii harvesting grapes in autumn, below-works in winter (cart and oxen) Right- above-summer works (genii with sheaves) and olive picking (winter) below-genii of 4 seasons. Back-grid pattern. 3.) Sarcofogo: Il trionfo di Bacco Reduce dalle Indie. Not dated. Wild animals are in the center (lions, elephants, goats, etc.) probably Bacchus on an elephant and teacher Silenus in the center. They are surrounded by dancing Maenads, winged cupids, and Satyrs. Left- dancing woman with a staff, naked man, and an animal. Right-same figures as left with a tree in the middle. Back-blank with fluting, blank square probably for an inscription. 4.) Small Sarcophagus with Bacchic Scene. Front-Chubby cupid figures and satrys holding up a chubby Bacchus. Dancing Maenads on their sides. Shepard is wrestling a goat on the right and an old bearded man is standing on a plat-form, holding a staff on the right side. Griffon on the left and right sides of sarcophagus. 5.) Sarcophagus with Bacchus and Ariadne. 2 men holding blank circle (probably for patron’s face) in center with 2 wild cats. Below two Maenads bordering center. 2 Satyrs playing instruments bordering Maenads, both have winged cupids dancing on their backs (both holding theatrical masks) Right- Ariadne on cart being driven by a Satyr. Left-Dionysus on cart. On top- reclining symposium, Dionysus and Ariadne in center. Cupids, women, Silenus, centaurs, reclining. To left boy sarting a fire. Faces border top corners. Left side- centaur carrying a basket Right side- perhaps Dionysus and Ariadne, Dionysus holding staff, feeding a wild animal. 6.) Sarcophagus with Dionysian Iconography. Pair of lion heads in center. Tigers below with cupids riding them. Man is holding a wine jug, staff, and lion skin in center with an approaching woman. (Dionysus and Ariadne?) Dancing woman with grape vines in hair on the side, holding a staff. Theatrical masks on the left side with dancing Maenad and naked man. Right side-another man with a staff and animal skin and a dancing woman. 7.) Sarcophagus with Dionysus In the center- Dionysus is being held up by a Maenad (maybe Ariadne) and a naked man with a staff and animal skin. Leopard on the bottom with a snake inside a basket. To the left a dancing Maenad, to the right maybe Dionysus. (Man with a staff and leopard skin, vine across his chest, panther on bottom, with baby cupid on the right shoulder. Right-engraved decoration, also on left side. 8.)Two tops of sarcophagi with reclining Dionysus. The first one shows him bearded with grape vines in hair. The second is similar to the 1st, only bigger and he is holding a wine jug. 9.) Sarcophagus with Chubby Cupids. A series of chubby cupids lined up in a row. A drunk man is being held up in the center (probably Bacchus) Panther is at the bottom with cupids playing a musical instrument. The top may not be related to this sarcophagus but it is a sleeping woman holding a snake. (maybe Ariadne?) 10.) Sarcophagus with Bacchus and Ariadne. Ariadne is sleeping to the center/left, Bacchus has grape vines in his hair, and is approaching her. Satyrs, Cupids, Maenads encompass the rest of the sarcophagus. Silenus is holding a staff at Bacchus’ side. To the right is a man with a lion/lepard skin over his shoulder. To the far right a woman is serving fruit, man pouring wine in a child’s mouth. Bearded cloak-figure to the far right, seen in other Dionysian Sarcophagi. Griffon on both right and left sides. 11.) Sarcophagus with a Dionysian scene. 240-250 AD. Dionysus and Ariadne are in the center watching Pan and other Satyrs pressing grapes. To the left and right there is a country setting. Two figures are shown in caves surrounded by satyrs and maenads. Described as being the roman Dionysus and Ariadne (Libero and Libera) 12.) Sarcophagus of Helena (Constantine’s daughter) Cupids and grapevines take up the entire sarcophagus. Peacocks are on the bottom, as well as sheep, and cupids pressing grapes. 13.) Funerary altar with baby Dionysus, Silenus, and Maenads. 14.) Sarcophagus with Dionysus. Right side- Satyr and Maenad dancing. Dionysus in center with satyrs, Ariadne is at his side sleeping. Silenus is to his right. Animals, Maenads, and Satyrs throughout the sarcophagus. On the top Pan, Silenus, Ariadne, and Dionysus are reclining with cupid figures. Left side-figure with instrument, maybe Pan? 15.) Sarcophagus with Indian Triumph. Ariadne and Bacchus are reclining on a man as a Maenad and a Cupid approach. Ariadne is on a platform being carried by a cupid to Dionysus. Horses are carrying a cart with a cupid in it. Winged female figure is next to a sitting man. Chubby cupids are on the border. Right side- sitting defeated-looking man with animals. Left side- man sitting under a tree with a goat.

Very rare Roman sarcophagus with ‘human’ carving found in Ashkelon, Israel

Israel had been the focus of many archaeological activities in this year, with IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) taking a leading role in preserving the country’s historical artifacts. And now added to this proud list is a very rare find pertaining to a 1800-year old Roman sarcophagus. Discovered by chance, the 8.2 ft (2.5 m) long specimen was found by men who were on working on a construction project for villas in the city of Ashkelon, looking over the Mediterranean coast.

A rich coffin for a rich Roman –

To that end, this imposing coffin boasts sculptural workmanship on all of its sides, while its main lid (shaped like a tent) features an intricate life-size carving of a man on one side. Showcasing his Roman-style ‘curly’ haircut, the richly bedecked figure seems to be leaning on his left-hand, and wearing a short-sleeved embroidered shirt complemented by a waist long tunic. And what’s more, his eyes were most probably inlaid with precious stones, but these ritzy specimens have since been lost.

As for the other side of the tent-shaped lid, it features carving of a metal-made amphora (a wine vessel) that is interspersed with motifs like grapes and leaves. These depictions are further accompanied by rich details on the flanks of the sarcophagus – with decorative elements including wreaths, bulls’ heads, naked cupids and even Medusa (represented with her hair as snakes). This does mirror the Roman belief that the mythical monster female watched over their deceased.

However the million-dollar question still remains unanswered, and that pertains to the mysterious occupant of the tomb. To that end, the archaeologists could only attest that the deceased surely came from a wealthy family – judged from the well-crafted embellishments along the big coffin. But on closer inspections of the motifs, the individual was most probably not of native Jewish faith.

A legal trouble –

Now while IAA had tried its best the solve the situation, the discovery of the Roman sarcophagus itself might have taken an illegal route. This was due to what is perceived as negligence on the part of the construction workers who found the rare coffin. In that regard, instead of contacting the proper authorities (which is IAA in this case), they took upon themselves to unearth the historical specimen – and too in a rough manner with a help of a tractor.

Suffice it to say, the sarcophagus has been reported to be damaged on all sides due to this odd activity. Moreover, the workers tried their best to hide the discovery by placing metallic sheets upon the Roman coffin, while concealing the excavated ground with poured concrete. Fortunately for the sake of preserved history, tipsters found out about the ‘inconspicuous’ scenario, and promptly contacted the police. As a result, the alleged crime might carry a pretty strong sentence, with IAA already preparing to take legal action against the perpetrators.

Amir Ganor, head of the IAA inspection department, clarified –

This is an extremely serious case of damage to a rare antiquity of unprecedented artistic, historical and cultural importance. Out of consideration for the owners of the lots, we permitted building in the new neighborhood of villas, on condition they would report any discovery of antiquities in the area right away and immediately halt work until the arrival of our representative. In this case, the building contractors chose to hide the rare artifact, and their action has caused painful damage to history.

Images credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.


Sarcophagus containing two bejeweled skeletons found in the ancient Roman City of Viminacium

Archaeologists working at the site of Viminacium, an ancient Roman city located in present-day Serbia, have discovered a well-preserved sarcophagus containing a variety of treasures, including a silver mirror, glass perfume bottles and gold jewelry. The rectangular sarcophagus, as per reports, houses the skeletal remains of two upper-class Romans.

According to Ilija Mikic, an anthropologist overseeing the excavation, the skeletons belonged to a tall, middle-aged man and a slim younger woman. The latter was found adorned with golden earrings, a necklace as well as several ornate hairpins.

Additionally, researchers uncovered a silver mirror and three delicate glass perfume bottles around the female inside the sarcophagus. A silver belt buckle, along with the remnants of shoes, were discovered on and around the male skeleton, the archaeologists stated. Speaking about the discovery, Mikic said –

According to grave goods, we can conclude that these two people surely belonged to a higher social class.

An Overview Of Viminacium And Its Historical Significance

Situated close to the modern-day town of Kostolac, approximately 70 kilometers (40 miles) east of Serbia’s capital Belgrade, Viminacium was a military camp as well as the capital the Roman province of Moesia Superior. In fact, it was considered to be one of the most important Roman cities between the first century and the fourth century AD.

The ancient Roman city itself dates back to the 1st century AD. At its peak, Viminacium is believed to have been home to over 40,000 inhabitants, which in turn made it one of the biggest cities of the time. In terms of its strategic importance, Viminacium was tasked with the protection of the northern border of the Roman Empire and also played a role in communications and commercial transactions.

In addition to its strategic location, the presence of roads and waterways helped Viminacium emerge as an important trading and business center over the coming centuries. With its subsequent expansion to the left bank of Mlava, the ancient Roman city became one of the key meeting points of the cultures of East and West.

As a military camp, around 6,000 soldiers were stationed at Viminacium, while another 30,000-40,000 lived nearby. In the 5th century AD, the city suffered massive destruction at the hands of the Huns but was later rebuilt by Roman emperor Justinian during his reign from circa 527 AD to 565 AD. Soon afterward, however, it was massacred by the Slavs in the 6th century.

Interestingly, the site of Viminacium has been continuously studied by archaeologists since 1882. Today, it is spread across an area of 1,100 acres (450 hectares) and holds the remains of several temples, streets, squares, workshops, forums, amphitheaters, palaces, aqueducts, Roman baths as well as a horse- and chariot-racing stadium called hippodrome.

Unlike most ancient Roman settlements, which are currently buried under modern cities like London, Milan, Budapest or Belgrade, Viminacium remains open. However, only around 3% to 4% of the site has been explored so far. Speaking on the matter, Miomir Korac, director of the site, said –

Only Viminacium with its 450 hectares is an open area for exploration. And I am sure this will bring an immeasurable quantity of information.

Since 1882, archaeologists have stumbled across a number of valuable finds at Viminacium, including sculptures built from jade and marble, pottery, mosaics and frescos, golden tiles with Roman magical symbols as inscriptions, among other things. Another interesting fact about the ancient city is that it houses the largest number of graves found in any Roman archaeological site. As of 2018, over 14,000 tombs have been uncovered at the site.


A Roman Sarcophagus Is Rescued from Humble Duty as a Flower Pot

This was no ordinary flower pot holding up the tulips in an English garden.

When an antiques expert visited Blenheim Palace in England on official business about a year ago, he happened to notice an ornately carved marble piece that was being used as a planter in one of the estate’s gardens. Something about the carvings was familiar — there was a drunken Dionysus leaning on a satyr, carved lion heads and depictions of Hercules and Ariadne merrymaking at a party.

The flower pot turned out to be part of an ancient Roman sarcophagus.

This week, the palace, a sweeping 18th -century site in Oxfordshire just outside of London, announced that it had removed the sarcophagus piece, restored it and put it on display inside the palace.

“We are hoping it will remain in good condition and survive for many more centuries to come,” said Kate Ballenger, the house manager at Blenheim Palace, in a statement announcing the discovery of the sarcophagus piece.

Blenheim Palace is a World Heritage site that has been the home of the dukes of Marlborough for 300 years. It has a unique historical place in Britain’s history: It was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War I and as a home for evacuees in World War II. Sir Winston Churchill was born at the palace and spent his boyhood there.

In 1950, the palace was opened to the public for the first time, and it plays host to social events, weddings, fashion shows and exhibitions — in addition to now housing a piece of Roman antiquity in a display at the bottom of a staircase in a hallway.

The marble coffin, which is 17 centuries old, appeared on the property during the time of George Spencer-Churchill, the 5th Duke of Marlborough, in the 19th century. It was initially used to collect water from a natural spring near one of the palace’s features, called the Great Lake, the statement said.

But early in the 20th century it was incorporated into a rock garden. And it stayed there, until the fateful day last year when it was discovered — filled with dirt, planted with tulips and attached to a lead cistern — by the antiques specialist, who was strolling through while visiting on other business.

“He happened to see it,” Jonathan Prince, a palace spokesman, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. The antiques expert knew that a similar marble coffin had been auctioned off for more than 100,000 pounds, about $121,000, Mr. Prince said. But because of the condition of the piece at Blenheim Palace, he suggested to Mr. Prince that the value of the sarcophagus might be three times as much.

“But it is not for sale, not at all,” Mr. Prince said in the interview. “It will stay here.”

After the discovery by the expert, whose identity the palace is keeping private, conservationists were called in.

Nicholas Barnfield, an architectural stone and sculpture expert with Cliveden Conservation, set to work. He described the piece as the front of a coffin that is missing its base, sides and back. Even as a fragment, the piece is 6 feet long, 2.5 feet high and about 6 inches thick it weighs about 550 pounds.

The team cut the bolts, released it from the cistern, put it into a box and transported it by van to their workshop. It was carefully cleaned to avoid damaging the surface, with “a splash of water and some wooden picks” used to remove encrustations from its days as a fountain feature, Mr. Barnfield said in a telephone interview.

There was some damage — bolt holes and broken or weathered features on some of the sculptures — but it was ready to return to its palace home after about six months. “We took it back with four blokes with manual lifting,” Mr. Barnfield said.

But there are still questions. “It is actually the beginning of the story,” he said.

The piece is thought to date to the second century A.D., he said, based on the type of carving — the flowing wine from crushed grapes and the theme of Dionysus “ushering you into the afterlife in a nice drunken happy state, a merry state.”

“It is indicative of when the Romans shifted from burning their dead to interring them,” Mr. Barnfield said. “So it is a coffin as such.”

It is not clear who the sculptor was. And it is not clear who, if anyone, was buried in it.

The hole borings could have been a result of an 18th-century restoration because of the demand at the time for such pieces, he said.

But there was little other evidence of anything from its 18th-century period, aside from the fact that it was a Roman sarcophagus, Mr. Barnfield said.

“There is still research that could be done about it,” he added. “This is really accomplished work. There are no inscriptions to indicate who it was for, but it was obviously someone of very high status.”

Mr. Barnfield, who oversaw the restoration, said that in his decades doing such conservation work, it was not unprecedented to stumble across historically significant objects in an English garden.

“We get inquiries on an almost weekly basis for quality objects,” he said. “A Roman one is unusual, something of this age. But there are two or three gardens around Britain that have quite significant artifacts in their gardens.”

“It is not something we advertise because of theft, and also we don’t tend to sort of dwell on the monetary value of a piece as well,” he said.

Mr. Barnfield has even seen a sarcophagus or two. “But not of this quality,” he said. “Some of them can be quite plain. This one is exquisite. It is jewel-like in its carving.”


On the Sarcophagus with Triumph of Dionysus

The Sarcophagus with Triumph of Dionysus was carved from Greek marble in the second century, it came to Florence from Rome in 1727. On the main side we see Dionysus and Ariadne amid a bacchanalian celebration. There is a train of satyrs (half-human woodland spirits), animals, Pan, and other personalities from Greek mythology.

On the Vestibule Sarcophagi…

The Roman sarcophagi chosen to decorate the entrance way, that we still admire today, testify to the magnificence of the Medici acquisitions. The two sarcophagi representing Apollo and the Muses and the Triumph of Dionysius were brought to the vestibule from the Hall of the Inscriptions where they had been on display since the time of Cosimo III contemporarily, the sarcophagus with the Myth of Phaeton was brought to the Gallery from Pratolino. A work of exceptional quality, sculpted in a Roman workshop of the early 2nd century, the sarcophagus had already been copied by artists of the mid-sixteenth century when it was visible alongside the door to the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome. The sarcophagus with the Myth of Phaedra and Hippolytus, now more legible after the commendable restoration sponsored by the Friends of the Uffizi, is notable for the extraordinary vivacity of its protagonists: the sorrow of Phaedra as she turns her gaze from her lover the old nurse as she tries to intervene in favor of the Queen Hippolytus who is about to undertake the heroic exploit of the boar hunt in the company of a figure whose face might well have served the artists of the Renaissance as a model for the visage of Christ.



Fig. 1. Hylas and the Nymphs sarcophagus. Palazzo Mattei, Rome.
Fig. 2. Detail of Fig. 1.
Fig. 3. Strigilated sarcophagus: central panel with detail of Dionysus and satyr. Praetextat catacombs, Rome.
Fig. 4. Adonis and Aphrodite sarcophagus. Casino Rospigliosi, Rome.
Fig. 5. Adonis and Aphrodite sarcophagus. Cathedral sacristy, Blera.
Fig. 6. Adonis and Aphrodite sarcophagus. Casino Rospigliosi, Rome.
Fig. 7. Adonis and Aphrodite sarcophagus. Museo Gregorio Profano, Vatican.
Fig. 8. Phaedra and Hippolytus sarcophagus. Louvre, Paris.
Fig. 9. Adonis and Aphrodite sarcophagus. Palazzo Ducale, Mantua.
Fig. 10. Funeral monument of T. Statilius Aper. Museo Capitolino, Rome.
Fig. 11. Adonis and Aphrodite sarcophagus (fragment). Museo Chiaramonti, Vatican.
Fig. 12. The death of Adonis. Wall painting (fragment). Louvre, Paris.
Fig. 13. Adonis and Aphrodite. Wall painting. Casa d’Adonide ferito, Pompeii (VI, 7, 18).
Fig. 14. Adonis and Aphrodite sarcophagus. Villa Giustiniani, Rome.
Fig. 15. Adonis and Aphrodite sarcophagus. Galleria Lapidaria, Vatican.
Fig. 16. Gemma Augustea. Cameo. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Fig. 17. The healing of Aeneas’s wounds and Aphrodite's intervention. Ivory plaquette . Museo Nazionale, Naples.
Fig. 18. Priam’s return with Hector’s body. Ivory plaquette (reverse of Fig. 17).
Fig. 19. Iliac tablet (detail: Priam's return with Hector's body). Museo Capitolino, Rome.
Fig. 20. Homeric saga sarcophagus (Philoctetes and Hector). Antikenmuseum, Basel.
Fig. 21. Philoctetes. Etruscan cinerary urn. Accademia, Cortona.
Fig. 22. Philoctetes. Roman silver cup (“Hoby Cup”). National Museum, Copenhagen.
Fig. 23. Philoctetes sarcophagus. Lost: formerly, Florence. Drawing from the Codex Coburgensis. Vesta Coburg.
Fig. 24. Priam before Achilles. Roman silver cup (“Hoby Cup”). National Museum, Copenhagen.
Fig. 25. Adonis and Aphrodite sarcophagus (detail of Fig. 6): the tending of Aeneas's wounds and Aphrodite's intervention). Casino Rospigliosi, Rome (detail of Fig. 6)
Fig. 26. Aeneas wounded, and healed by Venus. Wall painting (fragment), from Casa di Sirico, Pompeii (VII, 1, 25 and 47 [8]). Museo Nazionale, Naples.
Fig. 27. The tending of Aeneas’s wounds. Glass paste. Antikenabteilung.
Fig. 28. Endymion and Selene sarcophagus. Louvre, Paris.
Fig. 29. Endymion and Selene sarcophagus. Museo Capitolino, Rome.
Fig. 30. Endymion and Selene sarcophagus. Louvre, Paris. (detail of Fig. 28)
Fig. 31. Endymion and Selene sarcophagus. Palazzo Doria-Pamphili, Rome.
Fig. 32. Endymion and Selene sarcophagus. Museo Capitolino, Rome.
Fig. 33. Endymion and Selene. Copy after wall painting (formerly Pompeii, Domus Volusi Fausti, I, 2, 17). Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Rome.
Fig. 34. Endymion and Selene sarcophagus. Casino Rospigliosi, Rome.
Fig. 35. Endymion and Selene sarcophagus. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Fig. 36. Endymion and Selene sarcophagus. San Paolo fuori le mura, Rome.
Fig. 37. Endymion and Selene on a clipeus sarcophagus (detail). Museo Nazionale, Sassari.
Fig. 38. Grave stele with scene of Endymion and Selene (detail). Pettau-Ptuj, Yugoslavia.
Fig. 39. Endymion and Selene sarcophagus. Museo Capitolino, Rome (detail of Fig. 32)
Fig. 40. Endymion and Selene sarcophagus. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Fig. 41. Bucolic scene on a strigilated sarcophagus (detail). Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome.
Fig. 42. Allegorical sarcophagus (“vita activa and vita contemplativa”). Museo Nazionale, Naples.
Fig. 43. Muses/Bucolica sarcophagus. Camposanto, Pisa.
Fig. 44. The “Rinuccini sarcophagus.” Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
Fig. 45. Sarcophagus of Iulius Achilleus. Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome.
Fig. 46. Endymion and Selene sarcophagus (fragment). Antikensammlung. Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
Fig. 47. Achilles sarcophagus (fragment). Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen.
Fig. 48. Reconstruction of Fig. 46 (author’s drawing)
Fig. 49. Endymion sarcophagus. Palazzo Braschi, Rome.
Fig. 50. Endymion sarcophagus. British Museum, London.
Fig. 51. Drawing of a wall painting of Endymion from the Casa dei Dioscuri, Pompeii (VI, 9, 6–7).
Fig. 52. Drawing of a lost wall painting of Narcissus from the Casa dei Dioscuri, Pompeii (VI, 9, 6–7).
Fig. 53. Andromeda and Endymion mosaic. Piazza Armerina.
Fig. 54. Ariadne abandoned by Theseus. Wall painting. British Museum, London.
Fig. 55. Theseus sarcophagus. Cliveden.
Fig. 56. Dionysus and Ariadne sarcophagus. Louvre, Paris.
Fig. 57. Mars and Rhea Silvia / Endymion and Selene sarcophagus. Museo Lateranense, Vatican.
Fig. 58. Grave altar of L. Aufidius Aprilis. Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome.
Fig. 59. Lid of sarcophagus of Andia Melissa (now lost). Anonymous drawing. Biblioteca Comunale, Fermo.
Fig. 60. Euripides’ Madness of Herakles. Drawing after a lost wall painting from the Casa del Centenario, Pompeii (IX, 8, 3 and 6).
Fig. 61. Euripides’ Madness of Herakles. Wall painting. Casa dei Quadretti Teatrali, Pompeii (I, 6, 11).
Fig. 62. Seneca’s Medea. Drawing after a lost wall painting from the Casa del Centenario, Pompeii (IX, 863 , 3 and 6).
Fig. 63. Sarcophagus with ancestor portraits in cabinets. Antikensamlingen. National Museum, Copenhagen.
Fig. 64. Columnar sarcophagus (Cupid and Psyche/Venus and Mars/ Mars and Rhea Silvia). Palazzo Mattei, Rome.
Fig. 65. Venus and Adonis. Engraving of gemstone. Thesaurus Brandenbergicus selectus (1696).
Fig. 66. Endymion: Drawing after a lost wall painting from the Casa di Ganimede, Pompeii (VII, 13, 4 [b]).
Fig. 67. Ganymede. Drawing after a lost painting from the Casa di Ganimede, Pompeii (VII, 13, 4 [b])x.
Fig. 68. Ariadne sarcophagus. Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen.
Fig. 69. “Spada” Endymion. Museo Capitolino, Rome.
Fig. 70. Endymion statuette. Vatican Museum.
Fig. 71. Vita Privata sarcophagus: sleeping shepherd (end panel). Badia di Cava.
Fig. 72. Vatican Ariadne. Cast. Museum of Classical Archaeology, University of Cambridge.
Fig. 73. Anonymous drawing of a Vatican Adonis Sarcophagus (Fig. 6) from “Museo Cartaceo” of Cassiano dal Pozzo, Windsor Castle.


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