Roman Marble Strigillated Sarcophagus

SKU: HQ.0080

Origin: Mediterranean
Circa: 1st Quarter of the 3rd Century AD
Dimensions: 24.5" Height 22.8" Width x 81.9" Length (62 cm x 58 cm x 208 cm)
Medium: Marble

The central panel of this exceptional third century marble sarcophagus elegantly depicts the Three Graces.  By-panels of strigillation are carved on either side, with erotes carrying torches to the left and right. Both side-ends feature shallow crossed shields and spears, with drill points for attachments, (now missing), to secure the lid. The lid is carved with a central panel for dedication, which was originally left blank, but now carries an 18th century inscription. It is held by a pair of flying erotes which are flanked by a second pair holding torches. The corners of the lid show erotes leaning on torches.  Exquisitely rendered and of superb condition, this enormous marble sarcophagus is a masterwork of Roman carving which leaves us in awe and appreciation of the ancient craftsman who produced it nearly two millennia ago.

Thomas Mansel-Talbot (1747-1813), South Wales, acquired in Rome in 1769-1773 from either Gavin Hamilton or Thomas Jenkins; Margam Park (early 19th century), then Penrice Castle (late 19th century), Robin Symes, Ltd., London; California private collection, acquired from the above in 1989

Carved out of Proconnesian marble; six ancient vertical channels and holes carved along the top edge on the sides and back of the trough once held metal clamps and align exactly with corresponding indentations on the lid, confirming that the two belong together. Sarcophagus: back left corner repaired with associated crack (stable) running along two-thirds of the bottom of the back edge; note losses to the proper left arm of the erote standing in the left panel and to the left foot and little finger of the central Grace; fresh chip to lower right front corner. Lid: top repaired from two large pieces and about ten smaller ones in the middle, the latter secured with five metal clamps; note the chipped left hand and right foot of the left corner seated erote; the inscription was added in modern times, as described. The surface of both sarcophagus and lid is slightly weathered. Minor chips, abrasions, and scratches overall.

The inscription, which was added to the lid in the 18th century, is copied almost verbatim from a funerary plaque in the British Museum (CIL VI,29149):

The sarcophagus belongs to a comparatively large group of strigillated sarcophagi with a depiction of the Three Graces in the central panel. The closest parallel is a sarcophagus in the Vatican: Sichtermann cit., p. 174, no. 156, pl. 125,3.

Thomas Mansel-Talbot (1747-1813), a fervent antiquities collector and affluent Welsh landowner, previously owned the present sarcophagus. Talbot was the son of Reverent Thomas Talbot and Jane Beach, who inherited the family estates of Margam & Penrice in 1750, which was subsequently passed on to Thomas Mansel-Talbot. An influential and powerful man, Talbot established relationships in the upper echelons of 18th century British society. He commissioned the Irish sculptor Christopher Hewetson his portrait in marble, which is in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (no. A.41-1953).

Talbot went on the Grand Tour to Rome between 1770-1775, where he acquired this important sarcophagus from either the archaeologist Gavin Hamilton or the respected connoisseur Thomas Jenkins, two key individuals in trading and collecting antique arts in 18th century Rome. The sarcophagus was a treasured item in Talbot’s collection and was passed on to later generations in the Mansel-Talbot family well into the 20th century.

Vatican: Sichtermann cit., p. 174, no. 156, pl. 125,3.

James Dallaway, Anecdotes of the Arts in England, London, 1800, p. 348, no. 18
Adolf Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, Cambridge, 1882, p. 595
K. Abbott, "On an Inscribed Sarcophagus at Penrice Castle, South Wales", Hermathena, vol. 14, 1907, pp. 280-282, illus.
Gerhart Rodenwaldt, "The Three Graces on a Fluted Sarcophagus," Journal of Roman Studies, vol. 28, 1938, p. 61, no. 2;
Alberto Balil, "El Mosaico de “Las Tres Gracias”", de Barcelona," Archivo Español de Arqueología, vol. 31, 1958, p. 79, no. 44;
Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 3, 1986, p. 205, no. 28
Hellmut Sichtermann, Die mythologischen Sarkophage. Apollon bis Grazien [Die antiken Sarkophagreliefs, vol. XII.2], Berlin, 1992, p. 176, no. 162, pls. 125,4 and 127,8
Dagmar Grassinger, in: A. Scholl et al., Die antiken Skulpturen in Farnborough Hall sowie in Althorp House, Blenheim Palace, Lyme Park und Penrice Castle, Mainz, 1995, pp. 90-92, no. P1, pls. 74-78
Glenys Davies, "Enhancing by Inscription in the Late Eighteenth Century: The Case of Henry Blundell’s Ash Chests," in: The Afterlife of Inscriptions: Reusing, Rediscovering, Reinventing & Revitalizing Ancient Inscriptions, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. Supplement, vol. 75, Oxford 2000, p. 120, note 32

I. Bignamini and C. Hornsby, Digging and Dealing in Eighteenth-Century Rome, 2010, p. 323f

J. Fejfer and E. Southworth, "A revisit to Margam," in: Et in Arcadia ego. Studia memoriae professoris Thomae Mikocki dicata, 2013, pp. 305ff



Roman Marble Strigillated Sarcophagus


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