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Lenos sarcophagus
230-280 ca.
Material and technique
white marble
165 x 240 cm
Alessandro Zuccari
This magnificent marble lenos sarcophagus dating from the third century AD is one of the most important antiquities in the possession of the Bank of Italy. At each of the rounded ends a lion seems about to devour a boar, a subject that enjoyed great popularity in urban sarcophagus workshops from AD 230 to AD 280. On the front, instead, lines of elegant spiral fluting face each other in a series of S-shaped ridges that converge towards the centre around the small figure of a dolphin twisted about Neptune’s trident. The figure alludes to the myth of the dolphin psychopomp, symbolizing the soul’s journey to the afterlife.
The sarcophagus is perfectly preserved and is notable for its impressive size and for the technical skill employed in its construction. It is of a shape that was popular for marble coffins from the second century AD, recalling the type of tub (lenos in Greek) used to ferment grapes; the intention was to link the funeral theme with Dionysian symbols. In alternative to the simple decoration of this exemplar, other sarcophagi were embellished with mythological themes of increasing size and complexity.
Lenos sarcophagus
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