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image M744

Fragment of the front left end of a bacchic sarcophagus

Possibly later fourth century AD

Parian marble, with restorations in Pentelic marble

Height: 58cm
Width: 32cm
Depth: 12cm

Museum number: M744

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 304help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

On a chariot drawn by Centaurs (only one equine hind-part survives) stands the god Dionysos [Bacchus], his legs covered by his himation in the later fourth century convention (head and right forearm missing): his right arm is resting on the neck of a small, bearded Satyr with an apron, his left arm on that of a youthful Satyr who looks up at him. In his hand the god holds in careless fashion a kantharos which the right-hand Satyr supports underneath. Behind the Centaur are the hind legs and tail of a panther.

As Adolf Michaelis rightly noted, this fragment is from the front left side of a Bacchic sarcophagus such as the portrait-medallion sarcophagus in Philippeville (Algeria) 'Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne'1, differing in arrangement of the figures and minor details, or (probably) the Hadrianic sarcophagus in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, showing the 'Triumph of Bacchus in India, etc.', where the half-draped god rests his right arm around the shoulders of a Satyr as in this Soane fragment.2

The composition of the young half-draped Dionysos standing in frontal pose with left arm raised, hand grasping a thyrsos, or around the shoulders of a Satyr and right arm draped about the neck of a similar creature close to his side was adapted to Bacchic sarcophagi from some older (relief?) composition, such as the inspiration for the high relief of Hercules and Bacchus in the Cortile del Belvedere of the Vatican, which Amelung suggests may be part of a larger composition and which he dates to the Antonine era.3 The Dionysos and Pan statuary types, such as No.158a and especially No. 159 in the NY Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen4 reflect the origins of the grouping in freestanding sculpture. D.K. Hill notes that 'the statuary type originated during the Fourth Century BC but developed and became popular during the Second and First'.5 For the position and popularity of these groups of Dionysos with another figure, in the 'rokoko' compositions of the late Hellenistic period, see W. Klein, Vom antiken Rokoko, Wien, 1921 pp.77-82, fig. 32); also A. Levi, in Ausonia, IX, 1919, pp. 53-64. Several of these groups, as Klein notes, combine figures which reflect the Fourth Century style of Praxiteles, known for his statues of young gods and Satyrs.

In a small group from the Cook collection, Richmond, Dionysos supports himself on a figure of Seilenus, clad in the shaggy coat of skins regularly worn by the Papposeilenus of the Satyric drama. Mrs. Strong6, citing the several more orthodox examples in Rome and Florence, noted that the curious composition was a variant of groups of Dionysos and a Satyr which derive from a Praxitelean Dionysos with his arms in the position of the Apollo Lykeios.7 From Renaissance times onwards these groups, naturally enough, frequently received the title 'Socrates and Alcibiades', but they were already known in their connection with sarcophagi, as witnessed by at least four studies of sarcophagi of this general category in the Dal Pozzo-Albani drawings at Windsor.8

For this fragment, see also C. Vermeule, European Art and the Classical Past, Cambridge (Mass.) 1964, p. 45. It is cited in connection with a sarcophagus relief once in the Villa Gentili, Rome, under the Dal Pozzo - Albani (Franks gift) drawing in the British Museum: see Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 50, Part 5, Philadelphia 1960, p.13, no.63. The Windsor drawings cited above are pp. 44-45 in the monograph noted here, on p.338; Windsor no.8651 is in the Palazzo Arcivescovile, Lucca. No.8696 is in Naples, Museo Nazionale.

1 S. Reinach, Repertoire de reliefs Grecs et Romains, Vol. II, Paris, 1909-12, p.4, no.1; L. Leschi, Algérie Antique, Alger, 1952, p.69
2 Reinach, Repertoire, op. cit., Vol. II, Paris, 1909-12, p.443, no.1; Journal of Hellenic Studies, XXIII, 1903, p.296; A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, trans. C.A.M. Fennell, Cambridge, 1882, p.252.
3 W. Amelung, Die Skulpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Vol II, Berlin, 1908, pp. 214-216, no. 7-, pl.21
4 F. Poulsen, Catalogue of ancient sculpture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen, 1951, p.124f., and bibliography; Antike Kunstvaerker I Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Billedtavler (1907), 1. Tilloeg (1915), 2. Tilloeg (1941), plate XII.
5 H.B. Walters, Catalogue of the Bronzes, Greek, Roman and Etruscan, in the department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum, London, 1899, p.26, no.46, pl.14; see also A. Ippel, Bronzefund von Galjüb, pp.32ff.; also P. Arndt, in A. Furtwangler and H.L. Urlichs, Denkmäer griechischer und romischer Skulptur, Munich, 1911, text to no. 620
6 Journal of Hellenic Studies, XXVIII, 1908, p.11f., no.12, pl. IX
7 For further comparisons in a number of Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman media see P. Amandry, in Annuario, XXIV-XXVI, 1946-48, pp.183-198
8 Windsor, Michaelis VII, A-46, nos. 8651-8653, also 8696: lost?, Mattei coll., Naples, and ?

Provenance help-art-provenance

Probably acquired by Soane at the Richard Cosway Sale (Mr. Stanley), 22 May 1821, Lot 56, A group, Bacchus and two Fawns, in marble (2nd day of the sale, 23 May, purchased by Mr. Watson on behalf of Soane for £0.6.0.


A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, trans. C.A.M. Fennell, Cambridge, 1882, p. 479, no.27.

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