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sarcophagus

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    1805,0703.143

  • Description

    Fragment from the front of a sarcophagus; relief in blue-veined marble with large crystals (probably Proconnesian), showing a Roman marriage ceremony (dextratrum iunctio, literally joining of hands). Between the bride and groom was a figure (now missing) of the god Hymenaeus, who carried the torch used in wedding processions, the flame of which remains against the bride's robes.

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  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 2ndC
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 98.4 centimetres
    • Width: 78 centimetres
    • Thickness: 11 centimetres (at present)
  • Curator's comments

    Walker 1990

    B. Cavaceppi, Raccolta d'antiche Statue ... I (1768), no. 35; A. Rossbach, Römische Hochzeits und Ehedenkmäler (Leipzig 1871), 18; Smith, III, 318-9 no. 2307; Reinach, RepRel II 496 no. 2; G. von Lucken, Das Altertum 2 (1956), 35, unnum. fig. (cast); L. Reekmans, BlnstHistBelgRom 31 (1958), 22; Cook, Townley 20; Walker, Memorials 48-9, fig. 39.

    In the engraving published by Cavaceppi, the missing figures of Hymenaeus and the female attendant are fancifully restored, as are the heads of the figures in the main group. The engraving may reflect Cavaceppi's intentions, rather than the restorations that were actually carried out (see below). Similarly, in the caption Cavaceppi describes the relief as 'esistente in Inghilterra', when it is clear that the relief was at the time of publication still in Rome. The misleading restorations and the caption may have been intended to impress prospective clients.(1)
    Before Townley acquired the relief, the head of the male attendant was completely restored, as were substantial parts of the heads of the bride and bridegroom and of the allegorical figure, most likely a personification of Concordia, who stands between them with her hands on their shoulders. The base of the relief is entirely restored to calf level. Hymenaeus and the female attendant, whose left hand supports the bride, are missing. There are minor breaks in the drapery and fingers of the bride and groom.
    The relief probably belongs to the right end of the front of a sarcophagus. The composition of the group is very similar to that of a completely preserved sarcophagus in San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, Rome,(2) and the London relief may be similarly interpreted.
    The relief in San Lorenzo shows a procession of allegorical figures and attendants associated with the Roman ceremony of marriage, converging upon a scene of sacrifice of a sheep and a pig.(3) There is, however, no literary evidence for animal sacrifice at Roman marriages.(4) It is likely that the San Lorenzo sarcophagus, and by analogy the fragmentary relief in London, allude to the idealised personal qualities to which the deceased aspired.(5) The classicising restorations make it difficult to date the London fragment, but the style of the drapery and the decorative work on the torch suggest an early to mid-Antonine date for the original. Professor Koch suggests a later date of c. AD 170-80 (pers.comm.).

    1. Suggested by Dr C. A. Picon.
    2. I, S. Ryberg, 'Rites of the State Religion in Roman Art'. MAAR XXII (1955), fig. 95; Reekmans, op. at. (above), fig. 10.
    3. Ryberg, op. at. (n. 2), 166 7.
    4. C. Reinsberg, jW 99 (1984), 292 3.
    5. K. Fittschen, AA 1971, 117 9. For others in the series, see
    G. Rodenwaldt, Abb PreussAkadWissPhilKlass. 3 (1935) and Koch-Sichtermann, 97 102.Cook 2011, nr. 129:
    ‘A bas relief, three feet square, representing a Marriage: it is part of a large sarcophagus’ (TY 12/3, staircase 1).
    Acquired from Albacini through Jenkins. On 7 September 1774 he wrote to Townley that the latter’s letter of 17 August, sent from Bath, had been in time to secure ‘the relief at Carlo’s’, for which Jenkins had paid 40 Scudi; he had been willing to sell it on at the same price, but Townley had insisted that he should take a profit of 5 Scudi (TY 7/338). The relief duly appeared as charged on 7 September at 45 Scudi in an account dated 1 July 1775, where Jenkins recorded that he had on that date drawn a bill for the balance of his account on Robert Child & Co. (TY 8/74/14). Townley recorded the transaction in a transcript bill (TY 8/75/3) and in ST 1 (fo. 60r) as settled on 1 July. In the transcript accounts TY 10/3 (fo. 10) Townley recorded the purchase as from Albacini at 45 Scudi for the relief itself and 35 Scudi for restoration, for a total in Sterling of £19. Jenkins wrote to Townley on 29 November 1775 that the relief was being restored at Carlo’s (TY 7/350), and sent a Bill of Lading on 4 September 1776 (TY 7/360). The whole transaction took rather over two years.

    On Cavaceppi’s restoration, see Walker. Restored by Albacini (Vaughan: see TY 7/350).

    Date:
    Mid-Antonine (Walker).

    Drawings:
    * Townley drawing 2010,5006.284 (with an outline restoration of the Cupid).
    * Chambers: B. F. Cook, `The Townley Marbles in Westminster and Bloomsbury', The British Museum Yearbook, 2 (1977), 48-49, figs. 30-31, no.13.

    Bibliography:
    - Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, Raccolta d'antiche statue, busti, bassirilievi ed altre sculture restaurate da Bartolomeo Cavaceppi scultore romano (Rome 1768), I, no. 35.
    - Synopsis of the Contents of the British Museum (1808), VI.4.
    - Ancient Marbles of the British Museum, X, pl. 50.
    - A. H. Smith, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum, Vol. III (London 1904), 318-9, no. 2307.
    - M. Bieber, Ancient Copies (New York 1977), 167, pl. 125, fig. 745.
    - B. F. Cook, The Townley Marbles (London 1985), 20-1, fig. 18.
    - Susan Walker, Memorials to the Roman Dead (London 1985), 48-9, fig. 39.
    - Susan Walker, Catalogue of Roman Sarcophagi in the British Museum (CSIR Great Britain Vol. II, fasc. 2, London 1990), 16-7, no. 4 (bibl.), pl. 2.
    - H. R. Goette, Studien zu römischen Togadarstellungen (Beitrage zur Erschlieβung hellenistischer und kaiserzeitlicher Skulptur und Architectur, 10, Mainz am Rhein 1989), 160, S 17.
    - G. Vaughan, ‘Albacini and his English Patrons’, Journal of the History of Collections 3/2 (1991), 187, fig. 5.

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  • Bibliography

    • Sculpture 2307 bibliographic details
    • Sarcophagus 4 bibliographic details
    • Walker 1985 p. 48 and fig. 39 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Condition

    Restored in the 18th century, probably by the sculptor Cavaceppi.

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1805

  • Acquisition notes

    Purchased by Charles Townley in Rome in 1774 from the sculptor Carlo Albacini.

  • Department

    Greek & Roman Antiquities

  • Registration number

    1805,0703.143

Proconnesian marble relief from the front of a sarcophagus: a Roman marriage ceremony. Between the bride and groom was a figure (now missing) of the god Hymenaeus, who carried the torch used in wedding processions, the flame of which remains against the bride's robes. Restored in the 18th century, probably by the sculptor Cavaceppi.

Proconnesian marble relief from the front of a sarcophagus: a Roman marriage ceremony. Between the bride and groom was a figure (now missing) of the god Hymenaeus, who carried the torch used in wedding processions, the flame of which remains against the bride's robes. Restored in the 18th century, probably by the sculptor Cavaceppi.

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