Farnese Sarcophagus - unknown, about 225 AD


Farnese Sarcophagus, about 225 AD

Marble, 163.2 x 62.23 x 26.67 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 colled 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 Pisu 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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In terms of antiquarian fame—marbles copied in sketchbooks, paintings, or sculptures from the Renaissance on—the most important work of art in the Gardner collection, and perhaps of its type in America, is the sarcophagus with satyrs and maenads gathering grapes. This large, rectangular coffin of Pentelic marble with one long side and both ends elaborately carved and polished (the second long side left in a less finished state because it stood against a wall in the funerary chamber), was exported from Athens to the area of Rome in the late Severan period, between circa 222 to 235 AD. The occupants of the monument are unknown, since the lid was lost or destroyed some time around 1500. The groups of reveling couples on all sides, combined with the type of lid found on other examples of this Attic imperial sarcophagus, suggest a husband and wife were shown on top, as if reclining at a symposium on an elaborate couch.

The art-historical diarist and cicerone of the mid-cinquecento, Ulisse Aldrovandi, reported that the sarcophagus came from Tivoli and was first to be seen in Rome in the Villa Farnesina in the 1550s. For over a quarter of a millennium the monument ornamented the courtyard of the Palazzo Farnese in the heart of the city, passing finally to the Villa Sciarra. In 1898 it was purchased from the Sciarra collection, through Richard Norton. The carving of the satyrs and maenads was especially suited to the artistic tastes of Mannerist and Baroque Rome, providing one of the most elegant examples of Greek imperial optic elongation to have survived from ancient times. The Farnese-Gardner sarcophagus can be considered one of the latest expressions of monumental pagan sculpture used for non-historical and decorative funerary purposes. As such it makes a perfect transition through the sculptures of the Middle Ages at Fenway Court to the cinquecento paintings with antiquarian flavor, like Titian’s Europa, in the rooms upstairs.

Source: Cornelis C. Vermeule (1978), "Sarcophagus: Revelers Gathering Grapes", in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong, et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 12-13.