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sarcophagus

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    1896,0615.1

  • Description

    Clazomenian painted terracotta sarcophagus and lid, decorated inside and out with scenes of horsemen, chariots, fights, animals and geometric patterns. It was built up in sections, and probably fired in a large tile-kiln.

    LID
    Outside
    Head end. Triangular panel divided horizontally - 1. sphinxes; 2. centaurs with dogs: the panel is also divided vertically by a painted column with a volute capital of Aeolic type, and below each frieze is a band of broken meander. On the border above the upper sides of the panel, rays; broken meander; egg and dart.
    Foot end. Similar, except that in panel: 1. youths running; 2. youths holding back horses.
    Right side. Panel divided into three friezes: 1. in centre two hoplites despatching an archer, converging from each side chariots racing and accompanied by dogs and flying youths, and on the far right a column (probably as on the face of the sarcophagus itself); 2. sphinxes and sirens; 3. battle between light cavalry and hoplites, dogs accompanying the horses: the panel is surrounded by a band of broken meander, and the friezes are separated by bands of alternating billets. On the border round the panel, meander and star. At the edge, astragal pattern.
    Left side. Similar, except that in panel: 1. in centre duel over fallen man, next on each side hoplites standing by, hoplite dragging woman into chariot, hoplite with horse, hoplite setting out in chariot; 2. animals (lion, panther, bull, boar, sow, goat, hare); 3. hoplite battle.
    Edge. Meander and star.

    Underside (i.e. the flat bearing surface).
    Headpiece. ?: below, a band of broken meander.
    Upper panel. 1. Hoplite standing by horse, column with volute capital of Aeolic type; 2. sirens: between the two fields, a band of broken meander. The sirens have the forelegs of sphinxes. The left panel is lost.
    Sidepiece. Vertical strip of volute and palmette, and on each side of it rosettes reserved on dark ground, broken meander, square and four: at each end, bands of broken meander and of square and four.
    Lower panel. 1. Sphinxes; 2. hoplites attacking archer: between the two fields, a band of broken meander.
    Footpiece. In centre duel over fallen man, then on each side a hoplite standing by, chariot group, youth holding back horse: above, band of broken meander; below, bands of broken meander and of square and four. What looks like another scabbard projects below the shield of each bystander: it is best explained by carelessness.
    Inside
    Two friezes of meander and star; upper part underrated.

    SARCOPHAGUS
    Outside.
    Edge. Meander and star.
    Moulding. Leaf and tongue, with dot-rosettes in the lower intervals.
    Walls. Panel painted dark: on the border all round it, meander and star.
    Face.
    Headpiece, sidepieces, and footpiece. Racing chariots converging on youth or hoplite, dogs below the horses; on the sidepieces at each end a mounting hoplite, a youth, and a column with volute capital of Aeolic type supporting a dinos. Each frieze is bordered with a band of meander and solid square.
    Inside.
    Edge. Meander and star.
    Moulding. Leaf and palmette.
    Walls. Panels, above and below which a continuous band of meander and star. In the panels at head and foot, hoplite flanked by two other hoplites who hold back horses; dogs run below the horses. In the panels at the sides, at the centre a duel accompanied by a flautist, and on either side a helmeted man moving towards a chariot, a dancer with castanets, and another chariot: other men in helmets offer whips to the charioteers. In the space to each side of every panel a larger hoplite faces his partner on the adjacent wall: these figures stand on bands of square and four.

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  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 510BC-480BC
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Ware

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Weight: 900 kilograms (lid)
    • Length: 2.3 metres (sarcophagus)
    • Width: 1.15 metres (sarcophagus)
    • Height: 0.8 metres (sarcophagus)
    • Length: 2.4 metres (lid)
    • Width: 1.2 metres (lid)
    • Height: 0.6 metres (lid, at apex)
  • Curator's comments

    CVA British Museum 8

    For illustration see A. S. Murray, Terracotta Sarcophagi in the British Museum. The lid is now in much worse condition than when Murray studied it, since it was damaged by fire in an air raid in 1941; some of the details are therefore unchecked.
    The rounded beadings - which frame the decorated panels, emphasize the heavier mouldings, and bound the ornament inside the lid - are uniformly painted with a simple pattern of billets.
    White and purple are used freely for detail in the black figure decoration. These colours are fairly well preserved inside the sarcophagus, elsewhere they have largely perished. The dark paint varies from very deep brown to brick-red.
    The moulding and panelling of the sides recall carpentry; but in exceptional productions like this it is risky to expect exact translations from another medium, and the broadening of the underside of the lid and even of the face of the sarcophagus is perhaps adopted from the ordinary type of Clazomenian sarcophagus. There are a few parallels, close but not exact, mostly from the Albertinum group (to which the numbers quoted refer). For the lid compare no. 16, and perhaps no. 7 and a fragment from Old Smyrna (ÖJh xxvii, Beiblatt 159 fig. 79); for the sarcophagus itself nos. 22 and 23, and perhaps Leyden I.96/12.8 (of which all the decoration has vanished).
    The decoration is similar to that of the other pieces of similar shape, as might be expected if they come from the same repetitive workshop, but there is more of it. It shows well the character and resources of the Albertinum painter and particularly well, because of the unusual length of the friezes, his principles of composition. So a short commentary, though tedious, may be useful.
    On the outside of the lid the short triangular ends presented an unaccustomed problem. Here the painter was content with pairs of opposed figures in the upper and lower registers into which he divided the field; at the head there are sphinxes above and centaurs with dogs below, at the foot runners and youths holding in horses. The aim is decorative but meaningless symmetry. Even the enraged centaurs should not be regarded as charging one another, but are excerpts from a standard, half-forgotten centauromachy; and their dogs have been casually attracted from true horses. Decorative too is the painted column that cuts across the field in the centre: the capital, like the other capitals on this work, is of the Aeolic volute type, which evidently was still reputable in the northern part of Greek Asia. The only other lid (no. 16) which allows of comparison here also has a column painted in the end, though its capital is distinctly Ionic. All these motives are taken more or less from stock. For the horse held in by a youth or hoplite compare nos. 9, 27, 16 (where the hoplite has wings); for the centaur nos. 1, 29, 26. The runners are exceptional, like the field they fill; but there is a comparable winged figure on Tübingen C.12 (C. Watzinger, Griechische Vasen in Tübingen, pl. 3). The filling ornaments behind the horses and perhaps the palmettes in the corners have intruded from the Wild Goat Style of the Albertinum group.
    The long side panels of the lid are the most conspicuous fields for decoration. They are divided into an upper and a lower frieze with a narrow band of animals in between. The lower frieze of the right side has an ingenious version of the charge of mounted archers against hoplites. The subject occurs also on nos. 20 and 19, where the composition is resolved into pairs of one rider opposed by one hoplite. But here the composition is larger, with two scenes of three riders against a bunch of hoplites. The scenes are carefully varied, notably by the falling horse on the left and the archer in the rear on the right, and they are plausibly united by a hoplite facing about, though with the wounded man at his feet he looks a little obviously excerpted from the familiar group of the duel. Relevant accessories are the fallen hoplites, riders, and horse; irrelevant the hoplite who holds in a horse on the far right, and the dogs neatly posed in sympathy with their horses. Who the riders are, whether Greeks or barbarians, is not evident; anyhow it is not likely that they are Cimmerians, since their invasion had ended about 150 years before and the subjects on the sarcophagi rarely have a specific identity.
    The upper frieze of this side has a conventional arrangement of racing chariots and in the middle a group of two hoplites despatching an archer. This group, a favourite of the Albertinum painter's since it not only makes a balanced centrepiece but also fits conveniently into the narrow upper panels of the ordinary sarcophagus, has often been interpreted as the killing of Dolon. For such a painter this interpretation would be credible only if the incident was already well established in contemporary art; and even so, his indifference to its meaning is shown on no. 4 where he substitutes a woman as the victim. I imagine that the original of the group is a single hoplite killing an archer or Amazon and the second hoplite is added for symmetry. The chariots, drivers, horses, and their dogs are according to formula. The head-dress of the drivers is fairly common on the sarcophagi: they wear a closely wrapped sash or skullcap, through the centre of which the ends of the tresses escape. There are no exact parallels from other sarcophagi for the winged boys who fly above each chariot: but those in running posture have relatives among the devices on shields, and there is probably another supernatural companion straddling the chariot pole of Copenhagen 1512 B.3 (Acta Arch vi, pl. 1 and pp. 204-8). At the right end of the frieze a column supports a dinos; the interpretation is discussed further on.
    The corresponding frieze on the left side is a medley of stock components, formally connected by gestures. The duel over a fallen hoplite is almost as common as the killing of the archer, and for the same reason. The hoplite standing by appears both in a similar context (as on no. 8, where again the dog has strayed in front of its horses) and beside the team of a waiting chariot (as on no. 14, though there his head is turned back to form a connexion); he is in fact an independent unit of decoration. And so it may go on. The hoplite apparently dragging a woman into his chariot is unusual: though the violence recalls no. 34, ours may be a version of the soldier's farewell, more intelligibly depicted on no. 27.
    The lower frieze has groups of hoplites fighting, with a variety of casualties and on the far left another bystander. The action is divided into two parts which are linked by retiring hoplites: so, though in an empty way, the centre of the frieze receives its emphasis. For the subject compare no. 18, and less closely nos. 15-17.
    The narrow strip between the two friezes is occupied on the right side of the lid by sphinxes and sirens, on the left by miscellaneous animals. The arrangement of animals in two confronting files is exceptional; normally animals are in groups of three. Perhaps, though such subtlety is unlike him, the painter intended a contrast with the alternating movement in the friezes below; but more probably he repeated the regular arrangement of sphinxes and sirens from the other side. The fauna includes some oddities - the black figure goat (a larger version is on the Hanover painter's no. I), hare (but see the Borelli painter's no. 8), and walking sphinx. The long wings of the sirens may be noted too: wings, other than griffins', are usually curled.
    The underside of the lid, except that there are no projections at the inner corners, resembles the face of the ordinary sarcophagi and is treated accordingly. The black figure subjects need no further comment, and the ornaments of the long sidepieces recur on other sarcophagi of this workshop. The disposition of the ornaments is not usually so lavish, but is paralleled on the elaborate sarcophagus no. 22 and (among others) the more simply shaped nos. 18 and 28.
    The face of the sarcophagus proper is awkwardly partitioned to make four friezes. All contain chariot races like that on the lid. The centres are marked by a standing youth or hoplite, and at the ends of the long friezes extra figures and objects are inserted. These extras are a hoplite stepping into the hindmost chariot and a youth beside a column with Aeolic volute capital which supports a dinos: on the right side the youths stretch forward, on the left they turn back and beyond the column is a shield or a shield and a spear. A. S. Murray - and others have followed him - argued that the youth is the ειδωλου of the dead man beside his monument, the chariot race is part of his funeral games, the arms and dinos are the prizes. I doubt whether any such idea was consciously or at least consistently in the mind of the painter. First, the main reason for the end group is the need to fill the space. Secondly, its position deprives it of importance, if not significance. Thirdly, the scene (like most scenes on Clazomenian sarcophagi) is primarily decorative; note the almost mechanical uniformity of the chariot groups, the inappropriate dogs, the absurd addition of the mounting hoplite, and the doubling and repetition of the groups. More credibly the youths are taken from some scene of the palaestra, and the columns (as apparently in contemporary Attic) are markers for races. Similar columns occur in racing scenes on no. 22, which is very close in other respects, and on Smyrna 514 (BCH 1913, pl. 13). In regarding the dinos as a prize Murray is probably right, but it is probably a prize that has already been won and dedicated. W. Vollgraff's theory that it is the receptacle of the ashes of the dead man is most unlikely: his parallels for such exposure are worthless, and incidentally the scene would become a curious advertisement for sarcophagi. For the border of meander and solid square compare again no. 28 and less closely no. 16.
    The inside of the sarcophagus has preserved its white and purple detail very well. The figures of the ends and the corners explain themselves, but the panels on the sides offer several novelties - the loose poses of the duellists, the nakedness of the helmeted men, the offer of the whip, the flautist, the jumping dancers with their castanets, the purple ring on the buttock. But though in his types the painter seems to break away from routine, his treatment remains unimaginative. He even makes mistakes - and that is unusual in his work: on the left side the soldier left of the duel wears his shield inside out, and some of the corner figures that flank the panels are wrongly proportioned. Perhaps the purple ring is another mistake. It serves no purpose, useful or decorative, in the finished style of the painter; and I suspect that he or an assistant, when enlivening the silhouettes, may carelessly have transferred to the buttock of a charioteer what was appropriate to the ring at the back of his car and then treated the other figures to the same clumsy finery. The whole scene of these long panels too has been interpreted as incidents from funeral games - chariot races and hoplomachia. This is possible; but comparison with other paintings of the Albertinum workshop suggests that it may be an ordinary battlepiece in the centre, with two bystanders facing about to make connexion with the neighbouring groups of the chariots, just as their drivers look back and ignore the proffered whips. As for the flute-player, some figure is needed between the combatants, and his choice could be explained by the dancers, for whom indeed he may be playing. Of the coloured details the most striking are the horns and ears of the Corinthian helmets. They appear on other well preserved paintings of this workshop, for instance nos. 10 and 14, but have no precedents so far as I know in East Greek art: presumably they are copied from Attic, as are other details in this scene. The leaf and palmette on the moulding above the walls is perhaps unique among the architectural ornaments of the sarcophagi, unless on the Hopkinson painter's no. 7 the filling is a degenerate palmette; but the corresponding leaf and dart of the outside is employed in the same position on no. 23, and there are closely related forms on the headpiece of no. 12 and the inner edge of no. 28.
    These panels by themselves offer easy clues to the date of the sarcophagus. The markings of the belly, though misunderstood, and the shields and poses of the duellists reflect Attic red-figure of the very end of the sixth century. That is an upper limit, and since the Albertinum painter does not show any important development in his painting it fixes, I think, the time when he was forming his style. Unless then this is one of his earliest works - which because of its elaboration is unlikely - it should be dated in the early fifth century.
    This is not the place to study in detail the sources of the Albertinum painter. But generally it may be said that as a black figure painter he inherited an East Greek tradition already much in debt to Athens, and that he himself modified and enlarged his inheritance by borrowing still more. Some examples have been mentioned casually above, and we may add among others the dancers, the dress of the hoplites, and the poses of some at least of his fallen men. From the East Greek tradition come details of chariots and harness, shield aprons, the animals of his subsidiary friezes, much of his ornament, and of course his Wild Goat Style though that is represented on this work only by filling ornaments on the end of the lid. The horses are a doubtful case: A. Rumpf has derived them from Attic, but their breed seems as old in East Greek. Besides all this there is the painter's own character.
    That character should now be evident. He was a facile draughtsman with a repertory of stock units and groups, which he combined more or less smoothly to form symmetrical and often irrelevant scenes. Content and logical unity of composition had no interest for him; he preferred to decorate. Much of the same spirit can be seen in his predecessors, but he converted their tendencies into a fixed system. It seems likely that in the early fifth century his was the only workshop regularly producing Clazomenian sarcophagi; his prolific competence and the capital and experience needed to set up in the business did not invite rivals. It is a pity. Competition might have made him not a skilful, but a considerable painter.
    A. S. Murray, Terracotta Sarcophagi in the British Museum, 1-13, pls. 1-7; Mon Piot iv, 27-52, pls. 4-7 (these two sets of illustrations are in part complementary, and from them - absurdly reduced except by Gardiner and Akerstrom - come the following reproductions). A. Joubin, de Sarcophagis Clazomeniis, no. 25. G. Perrot and C. Chipiez, Histoire de l'Art ix, figs. 123-4, 126. E. Pfuhl, Malerei und Zeichnung iii, fig. 139. M. H. Swindler, Ancient Painting, figs. 223-4. E. N. Gardiner, Athletics of the Ancient World, fig. 9. P. de la Coste-Messelière, au Musée de Delphes, pl. 48. 1. A. W. Byvanck, l’Antiquité Classique 1948, 99-E.1. A. Akerstrom, Architektonische Terrakottaplatten, figs. 38. 2, 47, 51. 3-4.
    By or very near the Albertinum painter. First quarter of fifth century.

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  • Bibliography

    • CVA British Museum 8 Pl. GB 610 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G13

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1896

  • Acquisition notes

    CVA British Museum 8 notes 'bought in Smyrna'.

  • Department

    Greek & Roman Antiquities

  • Registration number

    1896,0615.1

Painted terracotta sarcophagus and lid, decorated inside and out with scenes of horsemen, chariots, fights, animals and geometric patterns. It was built up in sections, and probably fired in a large tile-kiln.

Painted terracotta sarcophagus and lid, decorated inside and out with scenes of horsemen, chariots, fights, animals and geometric patterns. It was built up in sections, and probably fired in a large tile-kiln.

Image description

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