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image M923

FRAGMENT OF THE FRONT RIGHT END OF A BACCHIC SARCOPHAGUS

Pentelic marble

Height: 64cm
Width: 30cm
Thickness: 9cm

Museum number: M923

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 303help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

On the extreme right a small statue of the modius-crowned, bearded Dionysos stands left, in a long, girdled chiton with sleeves and holding a thrysos-sceptre crowned by a pine cone in his left hand, the right being lowered. At the foot of the rocky landscape on which the statue stands is an altar on which pine cones are burning; a goat lies on the ground at the right front. From the left a Maenad, seen from the back and clad in chiton and himation disposed around her like a shawl, is casting a roll (?) in to the flames. On the left, attached to the moulding above her head, is preserved the flame of a torch, which was borne by another figure now lost.

K. Lehmann-Hartleben, and E.C. Olsen (Dionysiac Sarcophagi in Baltimore, Baltimore, M.D., 1942, p.15, figs.12, 13) show that the ends of the 'Ariadne Sarcophagus' in Baltimore represent different parts of a single scene. The right end (their fig. 12) contains a scene somewhat similar to that of this cut down fragment: a dancing maenad in front of a sanctuary statuette of Dionysos. On the left end, a Satyr with a crude thrysos dances between a pine tree and an altar-like base which supports a ram's head. In both the Baltimore sarcophagus and this Soane fragment, Dionysos, kalathos-crowned, wears the long feminine garment and, in the former, over it, a panther-skin above the girdle, all of which identifies him with the popular Second Century mystic-cult god Dionysos Sabazios, of ancient Phrygian origin (Lehmann-Hartleben and Olsen, p.22ff., esp. notes 29-32).

The cut down scene as remaining here is rich in illusion and symbolism connected with this cult, which grew to rival that of the Persian Mithras in late pagan Rome and which like it gave way ultimately to a third rival, Christianity (Lehmann-Hartleben and Olsen p.24, esp. n. 35). The right front end of a small sarcophagus in Room XI of the Lateran (Museo Profano, no.695) shows a Maenad with a basket of fruits and a youth sacrificing a ram to the Phrygian Dionysos who forms the corner support figure - all, therefore, being a closely related composition, perhaps from the same copybook cycle of temple painting or relief sculpture. In the same position on a (Dionysos and) Ariadne sarcophagus in the Galleria dei Candelabri of the Vatican (no.173 - 30; O. Brendel, in Mitteilungen des deutschen archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung, 48, 1933, pp.173ff., fig.7; German Institute photograph negative no. 1933, 806; compare with fig. 9 in the Palazzo Bianco [?this seems to be a mistake and should be Church of S. Agostino], Genoa, photo Alinari, no. 30268; compare also with example cited by S. Reinach, Répertoire de Reliefs Grecs et Romains, 3 vols, Paris, 1909-12, Vol. III, p.361 and W. Amelung, Die Skulpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin, 1903-08, vol. 2 (1908), pl. 9, in the Belvedere) appears an even more complex version of this right front end theme - of which this Soane fragment is a simplified variant: before the figure of Dionysos-Sabazios at the corner facing left, in front of a Maenad with thrysos and basket of fruits, an old woman sacrifices a cock over a small, laden and festooned, rectangular altar before the god. At the left is a ram and by the woman, a boy playing pipes. This elaboration of the Soane sarcophagus seems in turn further paralleled by the front right ends of two lost(?) sarcophagi, the memory of which are preserved by two drawings in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle (A-43, Michaelis IV, no.2482; A-46, M.VII, no.8649). In each case the remaining reliefs of the front panels comprise varied Dionysos scenes.

NOTE

The Bacchic sarcophagi in Sir John Soane's Museum are now described in their proper archaeological contexts in Die Antiken Sarkophagreliefs, IV, Die Dionysischen Sarkophage, Volumes 1-3, Berlin 1968, 1969. They are: Vol. 2, no.104A (Dionysos standing), pl.148 (Catalogue, no.303); no. 125 (wagon drawn by Centaurs), pl. 147 (Catalogue, no.304). Also Volume 4, no.347 (fragment). The author, F. Matz the Younger, has set these fragments into their correct iconographic, stylistic, and chronological framework.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Unrecorded.

Literature

A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, trans. C.A.M. Fennell, Cambridge, 1882, p. 479, no. 29.


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