A Panel from a Roman Lead Sarcophagus of the Columnar Type

GBP 4,000.00

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Object Description

A part of a lead sarcophagus with scenes executed in deep relief. In the lower register we see a central crouching winged sphinx, depicted under a kantharos. To either side of the sphinx in the field there is a rosette above grapes. The whole scene is framed on either side by a fluted column with a Corinthian capital. The upper register contains vines and kantharoi. The upper register is set off on both sides by a twisted rope design that pleasingly links the eye with the spiral fluting of the columns.

Sarcophagi of the Columnar Type were often decorated with rows of Corinthian columns, which are spirally fluted. But also other elements in the decoration of this panel, with a sphinx, vines, and kantharoi – all popular Dionysiac motifs which can be traced back to the Greek Hellenistic world – consist of what has been called the stock artistic vocabulary available to Greco-Roman artists in both the East and the West.

The sphinx, like the griffin, had an apotropaic function as a friendly guardian of the tomb. The rosette was a common design on Syrian tombs.

Background information:
Roman lead sarcophagi were only produced in the region of Phoenicia, although they were also imported by the west. They were made for middle class people who could not afford a marble sarcophagus. Since they were often encased in outer coffins of wood or stone, or were concealed in rock-cut cavities in the floors of a tomb, it seems obvious that unlike the marble ones they were not always meant to be seen and admired.

These sarcophagi were made from sheets of lead that were sand-cast and were usually decorated with repetitive, stamped designs. It is difficult to date them exactly, but they seem to have been in use from the second to the fourth centuries; the earliest specimen known from an excavation which can be dated on other grounds comes from the second half of the second century, but the designs on it may have an earlier origin (see McCann 1978, p. 142).

Dating: Circa 2nd-4th century C.E.

Object History

Dutch private collection, acquired from Greg Manning Galleries, West Caldwell, New Jersey, 15 February 1997, no. 175.

Object Literature

Christine Alexander, “A Lead Sarcophagus from Syria”, Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 27 (1932), p. 155-157;
M. Avi-Yonah, “Lead Coffins from Palestine”, Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities in Palestine 4 (1934), p. 87-99; 138-153;
M. Avi-Yonah, “Three Lead Coffins from Palestine”, Journal of Hellenic Studies 50 (1930), p. 300-312; pl. XII;
Anne-Marie Bertin, “Les Sarcophages en plomb syriens au Musée du Louvre”, Revue Archéologique, Nouvelle Série, Fasc. 1 (1974), p. 43-82;
Johanna P.J. Brants, “A Lead Coffin from Palestine in Leiden”, Journal of Hellenic Studies 52 (1932), p. 262-263; pls. XI-XII;
Maurice Chéhab, “Sarcophages en plomb du Musée National Libanais”, Syria 15 (1934), p. 337-350; Syria 16 (1935), p. 51-72;
F. Cumont, Fouilles de Doura-Europos (1922-1923) (Paris, 1926) p. 150;
D.K. Hill, “A Roman Lead Sarcophagus”, The Walters Art Gallery Bulletin 23, 1 (October 1970);
Guntram Koch – Hellmut Sichtermann, Römische Sarkophage (Handbuch der Archäologie) (München, 1982);
Anna Marguerite McCann, Roman Sarcophagi in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1978), p. 141-150;
E. von Mercklin, “Antike Bleisarkophage. Überblick und Vorschlag einer neuen Untersuchungsmethode”, Archäologischer Anzeiger 51 (1936), p. 252-281;
E. von Mercklin, “Untersuchungen zu den antiken Bleisarkophagen”, Berytus 3 (1936), p. 51-75; Berytus 5 (1938) p. 27-46; Berytus 6 (1939-1941) p. 27-71;
E. von Mercklin, “Ein altchristlicher Bleisarkophag mit Reliefschmuck im Thermenmuseum zu Rom”, Berytus 11 (1954-55) p. 67 ff;
A. Müfid, “Die Bleisarkophage im Antikenmuseum zu Istanbul”, Archäologischer Anzeiger 47 (1932), p. 387-446;
René Mouterde, “Divinités et symboles sur les sarcophages de plomb”, Mélanges de l’Université (1937), p. 201 -212;
René Mouterde, “Sarcophages de plomb trouvés en Syrie”, Syria 10 (1929), p. 238-251;
L.Y. Rahmani, “On Some Recently Discovered Lead Coffins from Israel”, Israel Exploration Journal 36 (1986), p. 234-250; pls. 27-33;
L.Y. Rahmani, “More Lead Coffins from Israel”, Israel Exploration Journal 37 (1987), p. 123-146; pls. 10-18;
L.Y. Rahmani, “Five Lead Coffins from Israel”, Israel Exploration Journal 42 (1992), p. 81-102;
L.Y. Rahmani, “A Lead Coffin from the Hefer Valley”, Israel Exploration Journal 24 (1974), p. 124-127; pls. 20-21;
L.Y. Rahmani, “A Christian Lead Coffin from Caesarea”, Israel Exploration Journal 38 (1988), p. 246-248; pls. 33-34;
G.M.A. Richter, Catalogue of the Greek and Roman Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection (Cambridge, Mass., 1956) no 32, pl. 20;
David Ussishkin, “Two Lead Coffins from Cilicia”, Israel Exploration Journal 27 (1977), p. 215-218;
Donald White, “The Eschatological Connection between Lead and Ropes as Reflected in a Roman Imperial Period Coffin in Philadelphia”, Israel Exploration Journal 49 (1999), p. 66-91.

Object Condition

Intact; some encrustation, surface wear and scratching.

Object Details

  • material
  • dimensions
    W:34 x H:25 centimeters

Dealer Opening Times

By appointment only.

Dealer Contact

+31 71 5614 015

Dealer Location

Alexander Ancient Art
The Netherlands