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image M1486

Fragment from a Roman bacchic sarcophagus depicting a centaur

Early 3rd century AD

Proconnesian marble

Height: 52cm
Width: 32cm
Depth: 13cm
Depth (back panel): 55cm

Museum number: M1486

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 305help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

A drawing of the two fragments of a similar sarcophagus front, set together, one of the earliest drawings in the Windsor Library1, may show this piece before further damage and separation, although it is possible that the drawing is of details from a similar sarcophagus in Pisa.2

The fragment comprises the fore part of a Centaur (left leg missing) walking left, head turned back to the right; he wears a panther skin about his shoulders, a belt at his middle, and carries objects (fruit? or flowers?) in his crooked left arm. Before his feet is a fragment of drapery running nearly vertically from left to right. There are traces of more drapery (?or the tip of a wing) just to the left of his bearded head and a female head, also turned right, just behind at the right.

Judging from the Bacchic attributes of the Centaur, from his arrangement and reversed turn of head and body, and from the head (of a Maenad?) close beside him, this is probably the front, right side of a sarcophagus, such as the 'Sarcophagus with Victories, Dionysos and Ariadne' in the Museo Torlonia, Rome.3 Comparing this fragment with the Torlonia sarcophagus, the bit of drapery behind the (now lost) left front leg of the Centaur might be the end of the chiton of the Victory to the right of the central medallion, although too little remains to be positive.

This fragment is good early Third Century work.

1 A-42, in A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, trans. C.A.M. Fennell, Cambridge, 1882, III, no. 8331. For the Windsor drawing, see Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 56, Part 2, Philadelphia 1966, p. 21, no. 8331.
2 S. Reinach, Répertoire de Reliefs Grecs et Romains, Paris 1909-12 III, p. 108, no. 4.
3 See K. Lehmann-Hartleben and E.C. Olsen, Dionysiac Sarcophagi in Baltimore, Baltimore, M.D., 1942, p. 52, note 168, pp. 77-78, fig. 44; P.E. Visconti, Catalogo del Museo Torlonia di Sculture Antiche (Album of Plates), no. 416, plate CV.

Provenance help-art-provenance

In Soane's collection by 1811 when it is shown in J.M. Gandy's watercolour view of the Museum, SM P384 (hanging to the left of the entrance to the Crypt, to the east of the Sepulchral Chamber e.g. centre left in watercolour, next to left-hand column of doorcase).


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