November 27th, 2006
Sarcophagus with the Triumph of Dionysus
The Sarcophagus with the Triumph of Dionysus is one of the ten sarcophagi found in the Calpurnii Pisones tomb, seven of which are on display at the Walters Art Museum. The artist was Roman, unknown, and produced a work typical of Roman imperial art. The sarcophagus was created late during the 2nd century around 190 AD. The medium is Thasian marble from the Cape Vathy quarry on the Greek island of Thassos. The dimensions of the sarcophagus are 47 1/2 X 92 1/2 X 40 X 35 13/16 inches. The damage incurred over time is minimal, requiring no restoration. The sculptures are, of course, missing limbs and there is slight structural cracking. The most significant damage is located on the lid. Inexact mounting with the base (disproportionate coinciding planes) created an uneven weight distribution causing cracking and missing pieces. On both the lid and the upper portion of the two sides there are two deep rectangular impressions, each about two inches by one inch, which once contained the metal used to attach the lid to the top of the coffin. On the right side there are still visible remains of this metal. Apart from the cosmetic damage, the intricate figures have maintained their highly polished appearances. The sarcophagus is decorated with sculptures on three sides (sides, and front). Roman sarcophagi typically have undecorated backs, and lid tops and are designed to be placed against a wall. At first glance, with a layman's perspective, and before imposing any defining interpretations on the piece, the refined and elaborate figures captured my initial interest. The two scenes depicted are displayed on parallel registers. There is a parade scene on the base and a "semi-continuous narrative" (more like a clip show) on the lid. The artist uses a mixture of high and low reliefs (high is outermost) to layer the portrayal of each scene, and create a sense of...