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Section of Festooned Sarcophagus with Erotes and Marine Motifs

Roman art


The slab fragment was originally part of a sarcophagus of which other portions are preserved (one in the Portico, CCXXXXI, specular to this one, and one in the Entrance Hall, LI). The scene depicts two plump, childlike Erotes holding a garland of bunches of grapes, pomegranates, apples, pine cones, corymbs, berries and less characterised fruits. In the lunette of the garland is a third Erote riding a sea panther, heading to the right. The Erotes, often depicted in the form of winged children, are a constant motif in Hellenistic art, but also often appear in Roman art in the form of Erotes, Cupids or Amorini, as in this case.

The type belongs to a series of sarcophagi decorated with garlands produced between the first and fourth century CE, which enjoyed particular appreciation in the Hadrian and Antonine ages; the marine parade – an allusion to the idyllic afterlife condition – decorating the lunette is one of the most common themes in Roman funerary sculpture.


Object details

Inventory
CCXXXIIIa
Location
Date
130-140 d.C.
Classification
Medium
Luni marble
Dimensions
altezza cm 55, larghezza cm 95, spessore cm 5
Provenance

Borghese Collection (ante 1671)?; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 53, no. 179. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1828, Antonio D’Este
  • 1990-1991, I.C.R.

Commentary

The slab fragment, set in a modern frame, includes two Erotes with plump, childlike bodies and soft facial features framed by wavy curls holding a garland of leaves, fruit, berries and ribbons, within which appears a third Erote riding a sea panther heading to the right. The scene is specular to that of the Portico CCXXXXI slab (to which we refer for a critical analysis of the monument) and both belong to a sarcophagus of which a third portion is preserved (Entrance Hall, LI). 

The fragment was probably among those transferred in 1671 together with statues and bas-reliefs from Villa Pinciana to Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio to decorate the garden, and later relocated to Villa Pinciana, before Giuseppe Gozzani, Minister of the House of Borghese in charge of the new family collection, entrusted its restoration to Antonio D’Este in 1828.

The type belongs to a long series of sarcophagi decorated with garlands, characterised by the presence of the relief festoon motif that was very popular in Rome from the late age of Trajan to the early years of Hadrian’s rule (most recently Herdejürgen 1996). The theme of the marine thiasos ornamenting the lunette is among the most widespread in Roman funerary sculpture and can be interpreted as a reference to the idyllic otherworldly condition (Parodo 2018).

Jessica Clementi




Bibliography
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  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008299, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2021