Friday, May 21, 2010

MFA Preview: Roman Sarcophagus

The ancient Romans copied much of the Greek culture, art, and mythology and adopted it as their own.

This sarcophagus was made to bury the body of a wealthy Roman. The side is a huge and detailed sculpture showing the "triumph of Dionysus." The Greek god Dionysus represented wine and partying, among other things. One day the hero Hercules challenged the god to a drinking contest. Not a good idea.

Hercules lost the contest, the one time in his life he ever lost. If you look at the details, you'll see all kinds of crazy and exotic animals including elephants and giraffes. At the far right, some satyrs are helping Hercules to walk, since he's pretty shaky on his legs.


Sarcophagus with triumph of Dionysos
 
Roman, Imperial Period, about A.D. 215–225
 
Overall: 77.5 x 208cm (30 1/2 x 81 7/8in.)

Other (Body): 59cm (23 1/4in.)

Other (lid): 18.5cm (7 5/16in.)

Case (Rolling steel pedestal with wooden skirts/plex-bonnet): 77.5 x 228.6 x 76.5 cm (30 1/2 x 90 x 30 1/8 in.)


Marble, from the island of Proconnesus in the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul



Inscriptions: An inscription along the lower edge reads, "Marcus Vibius Agesilaus Junior made it (i.e. set up this monument?) for Marcus Liberalis, the son of Marcus, the Praetor, his tutor" or "who brought him up."

Classification: Sculpture
Catalogue: Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 244; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 113 (additional published references); Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 108-109.
On view in the: Roman Gallery

The god of wine and dramatic festivals, in full choral attitude, steps into a biga drawn by two Indian elephants with fringed cloths on their backs. He is supported by his companion the satyr Ampelos and attended by the complete Dionysiac train of Sileni, pans, satyrs, maenads, and the exotic animals of his triumph in India.



The inscription reads :M~VIBIO~M~FIL~LIBERALI~PRAET~M~VIBIVS~AGESILAVS~IVNIOR~NVTRICIO~SUO~FEC ("Marcus Vibius Agesilaus junior made (it) for Marcus Vibius Liberalis, son of Marcus, the praetor, his foster-father" ).

The condition is, generally speaking, superb, with the small breaks, missing limbs, and absent attributes apparent from illustrations. The surfaces, particularly of the nude or seminude figures, retain their high polish. There are no restorations of the kind that ruin so many sarcophagi. The sections cracked or broken through have been carefully rejoined, and the missing pieces of the lid hardly detract from the visual sweep and rhythm of the triumphal procession. The three-volume corpus of Dionysiac sarcophagi reveals that very few of these monuments of Greek art in the Roman Empire have their original (or any) lids preserved in any form or condition.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
William Francis Warden Fund, 1972
Accession number: 1972.650
Provenance/Ownership History: By date unknown: collection of an international banker in northwest Europe; by 1972: with Miss Jeanette Brun, Dufourstrasse 119, Zurich 8008, Switzerland; purchased by MFA from Miss Jeanette Brun, June 7, 1972

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