Skip to Content
Paleochristian sarcophagus
Second half of the 3rd century
Material and technique
white marble with grey veining
56 x 206 cm
Alessandro Zuccari
The sarcophagus in grey-veined white marble can be dated between the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century AD. On the front are two images of the Good Shepherd placed symmetrically at the sides of a clypeus bearing the effigies of the deceased couple. On the left, between two stylized trees, a person prays with open arms, while on the far right the figure of a ‘philosopher’ holds a scroll in his hand. The image of the shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders is based on the model of the Greek kriophorus, the ram-bearer. The theme is known to have been re-interpreted in Christian terms by allusion to the parable of the lost lamb.
When the persecution ordered by Gallienus ended in 260 AD , a period of peace began for the Christians. It lasted until the end of the century and allowed them to spread through the army, the senior ranks of public officials and even the imperial court. After 350 AD , as the Church acquired growing numbers of wealthy adherents, the demand for figured sarcophaguses expanded and their decoration mirrored that of contemporary pagan sculpture. The present sarcophagus, based on a model of finer quality, displays the same expressive ability that characterized even second-hand production.
Paleochristian  sarcophagus
Related Themes