Collection online

sarcophagus

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    1805,0703.132

  • Description

    Child's sarcophagus and lid made of greyish Proconnesian marble with blue bands: the marriage feast of Cupid and Psyche.

    Cupid and Psyche embrace upon a kline with high ends. The couple are attended by a diminutive winged cupid who holds a dove. Beneath the kline another small wingless cupid teases a hare with a bunch of fruit. Beside the hare is a table, on which lies a fish.
    Three attendant figures flank each side of the central group: four are cupids, and two are psyches, each dressed and coiffed as the pair on the kline. A winged cupid bears fruit tucked into the front fold of his cloak; a wingless female figure bears a jug and, pace Smith, not a thyrsus but most likely a long-handled dish, the vessels being intended for hand-washing before the meal. In front of her is a cockerel. At the foot of the bed sits a winged female figure, her cloak spread on a high-backed wicker chair. She plays a pandurium. To the right of the kline a wingless cupid plays a lyre with a plectrum. His left foot rests on a rock, in front of which struts a long-tailed bird, possibly a peacock. Next comes a winged cupid bearing in his right hand a long garland and in his left a cornucopia. Another follows carrying a hare in both hands. The scene is framed at each end by trees. The back of the sarcophagus is undecorated.

    More 

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 3rdC
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 39.3 centimetres
    • Length: 134 centimetres
    • Width: 44 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Walker 1990

    Bibliographies are given by Smith, III, 330-1 no. 2320 and Himmelmann, Typologische Untersuchungen 47, no. 1. To these add G. E. Rizzo, BullCom 32 (1904), 45; Gerke, 28;
    C. Belting-Ihm, JbZMMainz 8 (1961), 202 with n. 34; Turcan, 585-6; H. Nuber, BerRGKomm 53 (1972), 58; E. E. Schmidt, Mel. Mansel (1974), 601-5 pl. 190-3;
    H. Wrede, Consecratio in Formam Deorum (Mainz 1981), 203-4 no. 26; AA 1981, 117; Koch-Sichtermann, 111 no. 108; Cook, Townley 56; Walker, Memorials 48 fig. 38.

    Cupid and Psyche embrace upon a kline with high ends. The couple are attended by a diminutive winged cupid who holds a dove. Beneath the kline another small wingless cupid teases a hare with a bunch of fruit. Beside the hare is a table, on which lies a fish.
    Three attendant figures flank each side of the central group: four are cupids, and two are psyches, each dressed and coiffed as the pair on the kline. A winged cupid bears fruit tucked into the front fold of his cloak; a wingless female figure bears a jug and, pace Smith, not a thyrsus but most likely a long-handled dish, the vessels being intended for hand-washing before the meal.(1) In front of her is a cockerel. At the foot of the bed sits a winged female figure, her cloak spread on a high-backed wicker chair. She plays a pandurium. To the right of the kline a wingless cupid plays a lyre with a plectrum. His left foot rests on a rock, in front of which struts a long-tailed bird, possibly a peacock. Next comes a winged cupid bearing in his right hand a long garland and in his left a cornucopia. Another follows carrying a hare in both hands. The scene is framed at each end by trees. The back of the sarcophagus is undecorated.

    The scene evidently represents the heavenly marriage feast of Cupid and Psyche, as recounted by Apuleius,(2) but with the Olympian gods and Bacchic characters replaced by cupids and psyches. The central composition was clearly inspired by representations of the convivium coniugale as celebrated in real life - the motif of a loving couple on a kline and attended by a small winged cupid may be traced back to Roman funerary reliefs and sarcophagi of the Antonine period.(3) For a child (most likely a girl) who died before the age of marriage, a realistic representation of the convivium coniugale would clearly be inappropriate. The mythological version, softened and sentimentalised by the use of cupids and psyches in place of the Olympian gods, suggests the idealisation of a rite of passage unpassed through premature death. It has been thought that the butterfly-wings of Psyche may represent the soul of a girl, and the cupid with dove attending Psyche the release of the soul.(4)
    Similar scenes appear on a number of metropolitan sarcophagi.(5) The date of this London sarcophagus is disputed. Some technical features, such as the use of the vertically held drill to separate digits and to emphasise hair and features, suggest a late date.(6) But, though the scene is crowded, the execution is lively and, for the most part, naturalistic. Some scholars date the sarcophagus to the Severan period.(7) Given the less successful use of space in other similar examples from Rome, and the inconsistent and limited use of the techniques described above, these scholars may well be correct in assigning the London sarcophagus to the beginning of the series.

    1. For the type, see Nuber, loc. cit. (above).
    2. Metamorphoses VI, 24. See R. Merkelbach, Roman und Mysterium in der Antike (Munich 1962), 52.
    3. Himmelmann, op. cit. (above), 18. Wrede AA 1981, 116.
    4. C. Belting-Ihm, loc. cit. (above); Turcan, 586.
    5. See Schmidt, op. cit. (above),passim; Koch-Sichtermann, 111.
    6. Schmidt, 604 suggests a tetrarchic date.
    7. Wrede, AA 1981, 117; Koch-Sichtermann. loc. cit. (above).Cook 2011, nr. 320:

    ‘An oval Sarcophagus, about five feet long and entire, on which various figures of Cupid & Psyche are represented in the characters of Bacchus and Ariadne, or the Libera, and in those of the Bacchanalian attendants, usually exhibited upon ancient monuments in the representations of these mystical orgies. This sarcophagus was brought from Rome by the late Duke of St Albans’ (1804 Parlour Catalogue, dining room 42).

    Found in the last decade of the seventeenth century in a vineyard near the church of S. Cesario (Schreiber).

    Bought by Townley at the St Albans sale in April 1801, lot 104, for £11.0s.6d. (i.e. 10 ½ Guineas) (annotated sale catalogue, TY 19/130).

    Date:
    perhaps Severan (Walker, including discussion); ca. AD 220 (Faust, from form of bed); III AD (Huskinson).

    Drawings:
    * Townley drawing 2010,5006.276-277; engraving 2010,5006.1878.64.

    Bibliography:
    - Synopsis of the Contents of the British Museum (1817#), V.35;
    - Ancient Marbles of the British Museum, V, pl. 9, figs. 3-5;
    - A. H. Smith, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum, Vol. III (London 1904), 330-1, no. 2320;
    - L. Guerrini, Marmi antichi nei disegni di Pier Leone Ghezzi (Vatican City, 1971) , 81-3, nos. 41-2, pl. 26.2, drawings pl. 26.1, 3;
    - S. Walker, Catalogue of Roman Sarcophagi in the British Museum. CSIR Great Britain, vol. 2.2 (London, 1990), 31, no. 30 (bibl.), pl. 11;
    - S. Faust, ‘Antike Betten mit figürlichen Schmuck’, Helvetia archaeologica (1992), 109, fig. 41;
    - J. Huskinson, Roman Children’s Sarcophagi (Oxford, 1996), 53, no. 7.1, pl. 14.1 (bibl.).

    More 

  • Bibliography

    • Sculpture 2320 bibliographic details
    • Sarcophagus 30 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Condition

    The lid is missing. The chest is cracked from top to bottom at the back, towards the left end. The second figure from the left on the front has lost her right hand and the vessel held in it. The head of the bird in front of her is missing.

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1805

  • Department

    Greek & Roman Antiquities

  • Registration number

    1805,0703.132

Child's sarcophagus and lid made of Proconnesian marble: the marriage feast of Cupid and Psyche.

Child's sarcophagus and lid made of Proconnesian marble: the marriage feast of Cupid and Psyche.

Image description

Recommend


Feedback

If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: collectiondatabase@britishmuseum.org 

View open data for this object with SPARQL endpoint

Object reference number: GAA8789

British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.

View this object

Support the Museum:
donate online

The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.

About the database

The British Museum collection database is a work in progress. New records, updates and images are added every week.

More about the database 

Supporters

Work on this database is supported by a range of sponsors, donors and volunteers.

More about supporters and how you
can help  

Loading...