Relief from a sarcophagus

Fragment from a high relief in marble where a standing female figure can be seen. She is veiled and wearing a diadem in her hair. In her left hand she holds a sceptre. It should be observed that the sceptre is almost free standing: it has been carved with great skill from the same block but with only a few points of contact near the hand and the upper edge. The woman is wearing a long chiton close-fitting at the waist. Her beautiful round visage and hollowed eyes stand out. Another figure can be partly seen to her left. This is possibly a man, and he is also holding a sceptre in the left hand. The scene is framed by two straight bands which form a limit to the area of the composition.

We are possibly looking at a fragment of a sarcophagus from the Roman Epoch in which the sovereign gods of the Underworld, Hades and Persephone, are represented. The iconographic prototype for Persephone was established in Greece in the 5th century BC, especially in vase painting, where she and her mother, Demeter, share attributes which identify them as goddesses of fertility and of the Eleusinian Mysteries (torches, diadems, cloaks, veiled faces and sceptres). In the great relief at Eleusis, the front-facing depictions of Hades and Persephone, both carry the sceptres that indicate their chthonic power (Archaeology Museum of Eleusis). This model, as has already been mentioned, would pass to Rome and be repeated almost without variation throughout the Imperial region. Examples of this are sarcophagi and funeral reliefs such as those conserved in the Museo de Gythion (inv. 1453) and the Vatican Museums (inv. 10018).

It was usual in Roman culture to bury the dead in coffins, most of which were made of marble, while there are also some examples made from lead. All had some sort of decoration, even if this was merely a description or a figurative or geometric decoration. The most notable ones were so large that the figures in relief were more than a metre high. There are quite a number that have been worked so deeply that they have almost free-standing figures. Although the decorative motifs of the container and the lid varied depending on the zone where they were found, it is easy to recognise that they are sarcophagi from the Roman period or culture.


- BIANCHI, U. The Greek Mysteries. 1976. 30 Ill. Cat. n.58.
- KERENYI, C. Eleusis, Archetypical image of Mother and Daughter. Mythos. 1991. pp. 151 - 153.
- SVORONOS, J.N. Das Athener Nationalmuseum I. 1908. pl. 75.
- F. SINN, F.; FREYBERGER, K.S. Vatikanische Museen. Museo Gregoriano Profano ex Lateranense. Die Grabdenkmäler 2. Die Ausstattung des Hateriergrabes, MARPP 24. 1996. 76 ff. Cat. n.9.
- WREDE, H. RM 85. 1978. 427 ff. pl. 140,2.

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