Roman - Farnese Sarcophagus, about 225 AD


Farnese Sarcophagus with Revelers Gathering Grapes, about 225 AD

Marble, 163.2 x 62.2 x 26.7 cm (64 1/4 x 24 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.)


Object details

Accession number



Discovered in Tivoli about 1535.
Collection of Pope Paul III, Alessandro Farnese (1468-1539, elected Pope in 1534), displayed at the Farnese vigna in Trastevere, later called the Farnesina, from 1579.
By descent through the Farnese family to the house's sole surviving heir, Elisabetta Farnese (1691-1766), wife of Philip V of Spain in 1731, and then to their son, Charles de Bourbon (1716-1788).
By descent to Ferdinand de Bourbon (1751-1825), King of the Two Sicilies, in 1759 when Charles de Bourbon becomes Charles III of Spain.
Workshop of the sculptor Carlo Albacini (active 1780-1807), Rome for restoration, about 1791-1813.
Collection of the Imperial Vatican Museum in 1813 by order of the French Napoleonic commission overseeing Rome.
Collection of the Bourbon family at the Palazzo Farnese by order of Pope Pius VII (1742-1823) through the mediation of Cardinal Ercole Consalvi (1757-1824) in 1815.
By descent through the Bourbon family to the collection of Alfonso de Bourbon (1841-1934), Count of Caserta, in 1894.
Purchased by the antiquarian and art dealer, Ortensio Vitalini (1842-1919) from Alfonso de Bourbon, Rome in 1897.
Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner's husband John L. Gardner, Jr. (1837-1898) from Ortensio Vitalini, Rome for 52,000 lire on 27 December 1897, through the archaeologist and art historian Richard Norton (1872-1918).


Codex Coburgensis (1550-54), fol. 485, 148.
Mauro Lucio. Le Antchita della Citta di Roma... (Rome, 1558). pp. 160-62.
E. Platner et al. Beschreibung der Stadt Rom III (Stuttgart, 1837), p. 421, no. 1.
F. Matz et al. Antike Bildwerke in Rom II (Leipsig, 1881), pp. 29-33, no. 2254.
Catalogue. Fenway Court. (Boston, 1903), p. 4. (as "The Triumph of Bacchus"; Roman)
Anne O'Hagen. "The Treasures of Fenway Court." Munsey's Magazine (Mar. 1906), p. 658, ill. 658. (Roman)
S. Reinach. Répertoire de reliefs grecs et romains II (Paris, 1912), p. 199, no. 1.
G.H. Chase. Greek and Roman Sculpture in American Collections (Cambridge, 1924), pp. 154-55, no. 185.
Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), p. 78. (Roman, 2nd century [AD])
F. Matz. Bericht über den VI. Internationalen Kongress für Archäologie, Berlin, 21.-26. August 1939 (Berlin, 1940), p. 503, no. 55b. (Roman, simillar to the type at the Capitoline Museum, in the Hellenistic style)
K. Lehmann-Hartleben et al. Dionysiac Sarcophagi in Baltimore (Baltimore, 1942), p. 31.
Morris Carter. "Mrs. Gardner & The Treasures of Fenway Court" in Alfred M. Frankfurter (ed.). The Gardner Collection (New York, 1946), p. 58.
V. Kallipolitis. Chronology of Attic Mythological Sarcophagi of the Roman Period (Athens, 1958), p. 26, no. 145. (produced in Imperial Attica for export to Rome)
F. Matz. Ein Römisches Meisterwerk: Der Jahreszeitensarkophag Badminton--New York, Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Neunzehntes Ergänzungsheft (Berlin, 1958), pp. 139, 161. (Roman, Attic type, produced in an eastern workshop, southern Asia Minor)
F. Matz. "Rez. Kalliopolitis: Chronologie der attischen Sarkophage römischer Zeit (1958)." Gnomon, Kritische Zeitschrift für die gesamte klassische Altertumswissenschaft (1959), p. 696.
Cornelius C. Vermeule III. "The Dal Pozzo-Albani Drawings of Classical Antiquities in the British Museum." Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia, 1960), p.12, no. 55.
Cornelius C. Vermeule III. "Roman Sarcophagi in America: A Short Inventory" in Nikolaus Himmelmann et al (eds.). Festschrift für Friedrich Matz (Mainz, 1962), pp. 99-100, no. 2.
Antonio Giuliano. Il Commercio dei Sarcofagi Attici (Rome, 1962), p. 69, no. 458. (produced in Imerpial Attica for export to Rome)
Cornelius C. Vermeule III. "Aphrodisiaca: Satyr, Maenad and Eros. A Romano-Hellenistic Marble Group of the Third Century A.D. in Boston" in Lucy Freeman Sandler et al. (ed.). Essays in Memory of Karl Lehmann (New York, 1964), pp. 361-67, no. 9. (Roman, early Severan, 200-220 AD)
Cornelius C. Vermeule III. "Graeco-Roman Statues: Purpose and Setting - I." The Burlington Magazine (Oct. 1968), p. 556.
F. Matz. "Die Dionysischen Sarkophage." Die antiken Sarkophagreliefs 4/1(Berlin, 1968), pp. 106-10, no. 9.
George L. Stout. Treasures from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1969), pp. 64-65, ill. 65. (Roman, 2nd century)
Cornelius C. Vermeule III. "Excavations in the Museum's Archives and Storerooms: Greek and Roman Sculptures." Bulletin of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (1972), p. 35, no. 15.
Cornelius C. Vermeule III et al. Sculpture in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1977), pp. 44-46, no. 61. (Roman, Severan period, about 222-235 AD; perhaps Attic)
Cornelius C. Vermeule III. "Classical Art" in James Thomas Herbert Baily (ed.). The Connoisseur: An Illustrated Magazine for Collectors 128 "Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum" (London, 1978), pp. 46-47, nos. 5-6. (Roman, Severan period, 222-235 AD; exported from Athens)
Dorothy G. Shepherd. "A Late Classical Tapestry." The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art (Dec. 1976), p. 1, no. 2.
Antonio Giuliano et al. "La maniera ateniese de età romana: i maestridei sarcofagi attici." Studi Miscellanei (1978), p. 30, no. 13. (produced in Imperial Attica for export to Rome)
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 134-35, ill. 135. (Severan, 222-235 AD)
R. Harprath. Der Codex Coburgensis: das erste systematische Archäologiebuch. Exh. cat. (Coburg: Kupferstichkabinett der Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg, 1986), p. 86.
Rivka Gersht. "Dionysiac Sarcophagi from Caesarea Maritima." Israel Exploration Journal (1991), p. 147, no. 4.
Bertrand Jestaz (ed.). L'Inventaire du Palais et des Propriétés Farnèse à Rome en 1644 (Rome, 1994), p. 204.
Hilliard Goldfarb. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: A Companion Guide and History (Boston, 1995), p. 45-45, ill. 47. (Roman, Severan, 222-235 AD)
Amanda Claridge. "Sarcophagi and Other Reliefs." The Paper Museum of Cassiano Dal Pozzo: a catalogue raisonne?: drawings and prints in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, the British Museum, the Institut de France and other collections A/3 (London, 1998), nos. 8024, 8671, 8672.
Cornelius C. Vermeule III. Art and Archaeology of Antiquity 2 (London, 2001), p. 92, 97, ill. 106.
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), p. 12-13. (Roman, Severan, about 225 [AD]; made in Athens)

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The Farnese Sarcophagus is one of the most important works of art in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Its glorious images of cavorting satyrs and maenads has inspired generations of artists, collectors, conservators, and viewers.

This large, rectangular marble coffin was created in the area of Rome in the late Severan period, around 225 AD. The occupants of the monument are unknown, since the lid was lost or destroyed. It was rediscovered in Tivoli in about 1535 and its beauty inspired Renaissance artists.

Satyrs, minor deities who are part man and part beast, and maenads, female followers of the wine god, Dionysus, grace the sides of the sarcophagus. While the maenads harvest grapes, satyrs interrupt their work by flirtatiously pulling at their garments and exchanging amorous glances with them. Dionysian revelry was a popular theme on ancient Roman sarcophagi. The harvest of the wine alludes to the cycle of life, and the joyful imagery reminds the living they should “carpe diem,” or seize the day, while they still can.

In 1897, American scholar Richard Norton encouraged Isabella Stewart Gardner and her husband John L. Gardner, Jr. to purchase the 7,500 lbs. sarcophagus in 1897, writing that “even Boston would [not] object to its frank by slight sensuality.” Isabella installed it in the courtyard of her museum in 1901.

In 2018, Gardner Artists-in-Residence, the OpenEnded Group created a new video installation, Maenads and Satyrs, inspired by the sarcophagus.