47. Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus


Battle of the Romans and Barbarians (Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus), c. 250-260 C.E. (Museo Nazionale Romano-Palazzo Altemps, Rome)

  • sarcophagi start to appear more commonly in the beginning of the second century
  • found at a tomb near Porta Tiburtina (a gate in the Aurelian Walls of Rome)
      • no one knows whose sarcophagus this is, but whoever it was was rich (to buy such a large piece of marble and high such a skilled sculptor would have been expensive)
  • created at a time in Roman history which was marked by instability and civil wars (and preceded by stability and peace)
      • this historical shift is clear in the chaotic, complex nature of this piece 
  • moves away from high classic Greek art (in fact, it's almost the opposite!)
      • less focused on the beauty of the human body and more focused on  the interactions between people
  • an example of the typical artistic style of Late Imperial Rome (also includes aspects common to the Late Antique period)
      • this style is marked by emotional subject matters and a lack of realistic space
  • inspired by the Hellenistic style (as seen the movement and density of the composition)
  • named for its first modern owner, Ludovico Ludovisi
  • made of white marble
  • high (like REALLY HIGH) relief
  • some of the figures are almost completely disconnected from the base
  • incredibly detailed carvings 
    • made with a drill
    • used to mimic the intensity and chaos of the battle
  • at some places, this piece has 4 layers of figures on top of on top of each other (!!!)
  • the figures along the bottom are physically smaller
    • makes a viewer feel like they are looking down upon them
  •  the sculptor uses  shields and other aspects to frame and intentionally highlight certain figures 
  • this piece greatly utilizes the alternation and contrast of light and darkness to guide a viewers eye
  • the shadows caused by the multiple layers of carving and the extremely high relief greatly contribute to the piece
  • generally the figures lack individuality
  • Romans = very clearly the noble soldiers and good guys in this piece. This can be seen through their appearance. The Romans have...
    • attractive characteristics
    • serious expressions
    • smooth skin
  • The Goths/the Barbarians/The Gauls (celtic tribes that were in Western Europe)  = the enemy
    • They are displayed disdainfully (in the same way the Greeks portrayed them) with...
    • puffy cheeks and noses
    • wild expressions
    • uncivilized, primitive features
    • rough, uneven skin
  • The Hero - the man in the top center of the sarcophagus
    • the clear focal point (the only somewhat open space in the midst of a tangled mess)
    • splayed out
    • open-chested
    • strong
    • fancy, heavy draped armor
    • no weapon
    • likely a general
    • no helmet = invincible
  • Everything is MOVING!
    • Movement is KEY to this piece.
  • a narrative piece
    • the sarcophagus displays dozen of stories through the individual interactions between figures

  • Created to mark the grave of a rich, unidentified Roman (many scholars believe that the sarcophagus belongs to the splayed-out-focal-point-man in the carvings)

Cross-cultural Comparisons: Relief Sculpture
              • Churning of the Ocean of Milk
              • Last Judgement at Conques
              • Stele of Hammurabi