Unknown artist, Roman
Sarcophagus (coffin), 2nd century CE
Marble (from Dokimeion)
85.7 x 233.1 x 107.6 cm (33 3/4 x 91 3/4 x 42 3/8 inches) trough
Museum Appropriation Fund 21.074
Front This is one of only a few sarcophagi bearing scenes of the Trojan War (thought to have occurred in the 13th or 12th century BCE). On the left the Greek hero Achilles fights the bearded Trojan prince Hector. To the right is a scene that follows their battle: Achilles in his chariot drags Hector’s dead body around the walls of Troy, while the goddess Athena (the backer of Achilles), Hector’s father, King Priam, and Hector’s wife, Andromache (seated), watch. These scenes occur in Book 22 of The Iliad, the epic poem about the Trojan War ascribed to the Greek poet Homer (8th century BCE).
Back The decorative elements of a sarcophagus were often chosen for their symbolic value, and used to communicate the personal attributes and values of the deceased. Battle and hunt scenes, like those featured on this sarcophagus, emphasize the deceased’s courage and virility. On this side, three cupids are shown spearing a lion and lioness with the assistance of three dogs.
Right Short Side While this sarcophagus cannot be attributed to a specific artist, the structural details of its form and decoration suggest that it may have been carved by an Asiatic workshop. As the funerary art of Asia Minor often emphasized the personality of the deceased by representing him either in glorious action or with noble attributes, the short sides of this sarcophagus can be interpreted as honorific scenes of personal culture and bravery. Here, two youths face each other from either side of a rectangular pillar; the youth on the right receives a lyre with one hand. By alluding to his cultural sophistication and intellect, this scene communicates the social status of the deceased.
Left Short Side It was common for sarcophagi produced within a workshop to have been carved by several artists, each with their own technique and style. These variations often result in a disconnected iconography that is difficult to interpret, as in the case with the short sides of this sarcophagus. On
The fragments of this coffin (sarcophagus) were found in Rome at the beginning of the twentieth century. More than one hundred pieces were reassembled before 1921, when RISD acquired it. This is one of only a few sarcophagi bearing scenes of the Trojan War, thought to have occurred in the thirteenth or twelfth century BCE. At left, on one of the four sides decorated in high relief, the Greek hero Achilles battles the bearded Trojan prince Hektor. To the right, the goddess Athena (patroness of Achilles), Hector’s father King Priam, and Hector’s wife Andromache (seated) watch as Achilles in his chariot drags Hektor’s corpse around Troy’s walls. These scenes occur in Book 22 of the Iliad, an epic poem ascribed to the Greek poet Homer (eighth century BCE).
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. “Selected Works”. Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 2008.
Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo. “Classical Sculpture”. Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design,1972.
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. “A Handbook of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design”. Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1985.
Ramage, Nancy H. and Andrew Ramage. “Roman Art: Romulus to Constantine”. Upper Saddle RIver: Pearson, 2013.