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image M480

Fragment of the front of a large sarcophagus lid or perhaps a small sarcophagus(?)

Probably 2nd century or 3rd century AD

Luna marble

Height: 27cm
Width: 27cm
Thickness: 6cm

Museum number: M480

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 306help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

Beneath a plain fillet moulding, Dionysos, crowned with ivy and only slightly covered by his cloak, holding thyrsos in his left hand, sits right, on a rock with his head turned and supported by his right hand. At his feet a panther crouches left. From the left comes a Maenad in long chiton, the cloak flying behind her back; in her left hand she holds a lowered torch and lays the right hand on the breast of the god. On the left are the fragmentary remains of another figure.

On the sections of sarcophagus front set into the wall on the left side of the first cortile of the Riccardi Palace, Florence, there is a somewhat analogous scene showing a Maenad with cymbal and another with thyrsos beside the reclining Dionysos. Prof. F. Matz, who identifies this Soane fragment as coming from the left front of a large sarcophagus lid, confirms that while there are many similar parallels no replicas of this composition have as yet been identified among the known Bacchic fragments. A fragment of a sarcophagus from the Cook collection at Richmond1 and now in the Ashmolean Museum, which is later third century work with 'admirable colouristic effect' according to Mrs. Strong, shows a reversal of this composition with the variation that the god reclines on his cart rather than a rock. He reposes to the left and a Maenad approaches from the right. With this as evidence we can imagine another Maenad, or possibly Ariadne, reclining in the opposite direction at his feet and Satyrs and a great vine filling this section of the scene at the left and right.2 On the right front of a second century sarcophagus in the Museo del Terme, Rome, Dionysos also reclines to the left, on a draped couch, and is attended by Maenads: this scene is balanced beyond a dividing altar in the centre by a Bacchic group attending the infant Dionysos3.

1 Journal of Hellenic Studies, XXVIII, 1908, no. 47, pl. XXI.
2 Compare also the fragment with the similarly reclining Dionysos, let into the walls of the Museo Chiaramonti in the Vatican, see W. Amelung, Die Skulpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin, Volume I (1903); no. 46, pl. 36, where he is behind the back of a Centaur.
3 S. Aurigemma, Le Terme di Diocleziano e il Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome, 1950, p. 40f., no. 94, pl. XVIb.


A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, trans. C.A.M. Fennell, Cambridge, 1882, p. 479, no.28, (numbered 482).

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