A Roman, large, rectangular sarcophagus made of carved marble. The sarcophagus is predominantly in white stone color, but you can also notice yellow stains in some places. The walls of the sarcophagus are carved with figures of men and women gathering grapes from the grape vines that twist along the upper part of each side. The figures are twisted together, interacting and holding each other. The people are mostly naked, but you can also see fabrics covering some of them partially. Some of the men in the scenes have distorted faces, meant to represent satyrs. Children and animals appear underfoot, grasping at the men and women’s garments. The figures are inset, and stand on marble carved with a floral garland pattern.
Farnese Sarcophagus with Revelers Gathering Grapes,
about 225 CE
163.2 x 62.2 x 26.7 cm (64 1/4 x 24 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.)
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 CE. 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.