The front is divided into five panels. The centre and each end has figures; between them are two panels with flutes. Their elongated
In the centre of the chest is a portrait bust of a woman inserted in a circular frame, a Clipeus or shield portrait. Her features are only suggested, so that we are faced with an unfinished head, left as a boss to be completed by a portrait specialist. She wears a tunica and palla, and has a scroll in her left hand; the gesture of her right indicates that she is in conversation (cf. 37).
The little scene under the Clipeus is idyllically rustic, with a shepherd milking a goat in the shade of a tree.
In the panel on the far left we see the Muse of Tragedy, Melpomene. On her feet are kothornoi, the actors’ high footwear, and her long, sleeved dress has an embroidered belt worn high. In her left hand is a tragic mask of Herakles, whose club she holds in her right, resting on the head of an animal. At the opposite end we have Thaleia, the Muse of Comedy. Under her cloak she wears the close-fitting netlike garment typical of her, the meshes of which were probably painted in. She carries her lagobolon, the shepherds staff, in her left hand. Next to her are two comic masks, each on a pedestal.
The narrow sides are tooled with the point and the claw chisel. Fluted sarcophagi with such singled out Muses are rare, ours being the only one completely preserved. Muses and scrolls are typical signs of the high status connected with intellectual pursuits ; the pastoral scene is an emblematic expression of the idea of a happy life, vita felix, in both Pagan and Christian contexts. The extensive use of the flat chisel gives the figured decoration the character of work in wood, and drilling is very sparsely employed. These are hallmarks of the provincial workmanship which comes to the fore in some metropolitan workshops in the early 4th century A.D. That the sarcophagus is not a forgery (M. Wegner) has been demonstrated by H. Gabelmann.
Rome. About AD. 310-320.
H. 0.54; l. 2.10; w. 0.59.
Upper corners of front chipped, otherwise well preserved. No headrest in chest. Back tooled with pointed chisel and pick.
Acquired 1888 in Rome from Innocenti. No provenance.