Explore Collections Explore The Collections
You are here: CollectionsOnline  /  A sarcophagus fragment: the figure of Paris from a relief of the 'Judgement of Paris'
top left corner
top right corner
bottom left corner
bottom right corner
image M1123

A sarcophagus fragment: the figure of Paris from a relief of the 'Judgement of Paris'

Pentelic marble

Height: 38cm, approximately
Width: 26cm
Depth: 14cm

Museum number: M1123

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 302help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

A young man in Phrygian costume with breeches and a long sleeved tunic sits right, on a stool; a chlamys, fastened with a brooch at his right shoulder, hangs down over his back and serves also as a covering for the seat. Both his legs are drawn up and his head is turned back to the right and supported by his left arm with his left elbow resting on his right knee. His right arm rests in his lap.

Robert (see Literature) follows Michaelis and Matz in considering this fragment to be from a sarcophagus and from the scene in which Eros tells Paris of the attractions of the beautiful Helen, a subsidiary action in the representation of the Judgement of Paris. There are, however, no known sarcophagi in which Paris adopts the peculiar pose seen here: he is usually seated in a more relaxed manner and directing his attention to the right rather than turning to look up to the left. While it is not unknown to find isolated sarcophagus fragments which have no close relationship to a known type (as, for example, the fragment of a Season sarcophagus, Soane M532/Vermeule no. 307), the suggestion that this fragment might instead come from a relief with two captive Phrygian barbarians grouped beneath a trophy is a plausible alternative.1 The peculiarity of the pose, with body twisted about and the expression of awed fear, which do not seem appropriate for the depiction of the shepherd prince Paris, a prominent figure from a Trojan myth expressed in funerary sculpture, seem far more appropriate for a Phrygian or Parthian barbarian cowed by the dominion of Rome.

A parallel in the realm of triumphal sculpture rather than sarcophagus relief (although the connections between the two are many and this motive is not unknown in sarcophagi, compare the Bacchic examples in Pisa and Marseilles), is offered by the fragmentary relief in the Museo delle Terme, Rome, which shows two prisoners at the foot of a trophy all borne on a fericulum in triumphal procession. The relief certainly belongs to the age of Marcus Aurelius and probably adorned an arch erected in Rome in honour of L.Verus's eastern victories.2 The striking similarity in pose and attitude between the right hand barbarian in the relief and in this Soane fragment seems to confirm a similar derivation in whatever connection for the latter. If we imagine the Soane relief figure as having been complemented by another barbarian, both beneath a trophy or, less likely, a medallion-shield, the composition would have been too large to have formed part of any but the largest sarcophagus and even then only as the central motive. It seems more likely that this fragment formed either the secondary part of a large triumphal relief or part of a small panel from a small commemorative or triumphal monument. For the corresponding fragment, clearly located in sarcophagus art from its smaller size, compare the barbarian-beneath-trophy fragment in the Vatican Magazine.3

1 Compare the larger fragment from a Roman second century triumphal monument at Ramleh, near Alexandria, a bound barbarian in pose similar to this figure; no. 1772 in the Hall of Roman portraits in the British Museum, Smith, Catalogue, III, p. 117; here a colossal standing figure appears to have formed part of the group at the left.
2 A. C. Levi, Barbarians on Roman Coins and Sculpture, 1952, New York, p. 22, pl. IX, 5.
3 Vatican Magazine(?), no. 3125 [reference uncertain 2011]

Provenance help-art-provenance



C. Clairmont, Das Parisurteil in der antiken Kunst, Zurich, 1951, p. 80, no. K 247.
C. Robert, Die antiken Sarkophag-Reliefs, II, p.18, fig. 15 after a drawing by Eichler, 1873, and description by Prof. Matz.
Adolf Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, trans. C.A.M. Fennell, Cambridge, 1882, p. 480, no. 30.

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk