Menorah Sarcophagus

Rome, late 3rd century 
Marble, 72 x 126 cm
Museo Nazionale Romano in Rome

The large slab is part of the front of a Four Seasons sarcophagus. In the center are two winged Victories holding a clipeus in which is depicted a seven-branched menorah instead of the usual pagan or Christian portrait-bust of the deceased. The branches of the menorah are like strands of beads and are surmounted by lamps. The menorah stands on a three-legged base. Of the personifications of the Four Seasons, originally represented as two winged genii on each side, only Autumn is preserved. He stands on the right looking left and carries a basket of fruit in his right hand, a pair of geese in the left. Further right are fragments of the personification of Winter, holding up a boar. To the left of the clipeus were no doubt the personifications of Spring and Summer. Under the menorah-clipeata are three Dionysiac putti treading grapes in a vat. Other putti appear next to the feet of the genii, one riding a hare and the other a boar. 
As in any pagan sarcophagus, the seasons and the putti represent salvation and eternal life. The menorah, instead of the portrait, represents the identity of the deceased with the Jewish nation and his hope for salvation. No doubt the sarcophagus was not specifically intended for use by a Jew. Such a sarcophagus could have been found at a pagan Roman stonecutter's workshop, and the, menorah was probably added when it was acquired for Jewish use. The seasons sarcophagus had by that time become interreligious. The iconography of the "seasons sarcophagi" was well established in the Roman world, exemplified in such monuments as the Barberini sarcophagus of AD 330 in Dumbarton Oaks, that in the Campo Santo in Pisa of AD 260, and others. In style, however, our slab is less elegant than these, dating probably from the last quarter of the third century. 
 

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016