Imperial Rome   :|:   Document

Jonah Sarcophagus in British Museum

ref. : en.1121.2014 | 1 February 2014 | by Francis Leveque
sarcophage | Beginning of IVe century AD
Bretagne ( Royaume Uni )
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Sarcophagus found between Ilminster and Bath, England.

Marble probably from Thasos or Proconnesus, carved from a single piece of stone; height 60 cm, length 192 cm, width 77 cm

Re-used as a fountain, with drain-holes cut through the floor of the chest at the left end and in the left side at the back. A channel allowing water into the chest has been cut through the upper moulding at the right end (back). The base is sawn flat. Unrestored.

The front is decorated by relief sculpture representing the Story of Jonah; at one end a sea monster under the gourds, and on the right a peacock holding a gourd in its jaws.

The interior of the sarcophagus is roughly worked with a pick, and a headrest c. 29 cm long by 12 cm high was provided. The back of the sarcophagus is undecorated.

The scenes are presented with a strong sense of formal composition. On the left side, a ketos swims to the right, i.e. towards the front of the sarcophagus. Above the ketos is a gourd-tree. This vignette is divided from the main scene on the front by a Doric pillar, of which the lower flutes are uncut, in the manner of the colonnade of a stoa. The pillar is set on an Ionic base.

On the front, in the upper left corner, a ram sitting on clearly indicated land provides the pastoral element familiar to the Jonah story. Beneath the ram is the sea, and immediately to the right is the boat, with square-rigged sail furled for storm. The ketos is here poised to attack from the right. Towards the lower right corner of the front, the ketos spews Jonah onto land. Above is a grossly over-sized representation of Jonah beneath the gourd-tree. Unusually, he is not asleep but reclining with his right hand extended as if in speech. The scene is closed by another pillar.

On the right end is a peacock shown beneath a gourd-tree on land. The peacock holds a gourd in its claw and moves towards the front of the sarcophagus.