This highly ornate and extremely well-preserved Roman marble sarcophagus came to the Metropolitan Museum from the collection of the Dukes of Beaufort and was formerly displayed in their country seat, Badminton House in Gloucestershire, England. An inscription on the unfinished back of the sarcophagus records that it was installed there in 1733. In contrast to the rough and unsightly back, the sides and front of the sarcophagus are decorated with forty human and animal figures carved in high relief. The central figure is that of the god Dionysos seated on a panther, but he is somewhat overshadowed by four larger standing figures who represent the four Seasons (from left to right, Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall). The figures are unusual in that the Seasons are usually portrayed as women, but here they are shown as sturdy youths. Around these five central figures are placed other Bacchic figures and cultic objects, all carved at a smaller scale. On the rounded ends of the sarcophagus are two other groups of large figures, similarly intermingled with lesser ones. On the left end, Mother Earth is portrayed reclining on the ground; she is accompanied by a satyr and a youth carrying fruit. On the right end, a bearded male figure, probably to be identified with the personification of a river-god, reclines in front of two winged youths, perhaps representing two additional Seasons.
The sarcophagus is an exquisite example of Roman funerary art, displaying all the virtuosity of the workshop where it was carved. The marble comes from a quarry in the eastern Mediterranean and was probably shipped to Rome, where it was worked. Only a very wealthy and powerful person would have been able to commission and purchase such a sarcophagus, and it was probably made for a member of one of the old aristocratic families in Rome itself. The subjects - the triumph of Dionysos and the Seasons - are unlikely, however, to have had any special significance for the deceased, particularly as it is clear that the design was copied from a sculptor's pattern book. Another sarcophagus, now in the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Kassel, Germany, has the same composition of Dionysos flanked by the four Seasons, although the treatment and carving of the figures is quite different. On the Badminton sarcophagus the figures are carved in high relief and so endow the crowded scene with multiple areas of light and shade, allowing the eye to wander effortlessly from one figure to another. One must also imagine that certain details were highlighted with color and even gilding, making the whole composition a visual tour de force.
Very few Roman sarcophagi of this quality have survived. Although the Badminton sarcophagus lacks its lid, the fact that it was found in the early eighteenth century and soon thereafter installed in Badminton Hall means that it has been preserved almost intact and only a few of the minor extremities are now missing.
#1241. Triumph of Dionysos and the Seasons Sarcophagus, Part 1
#1242. Triumph of Dionysos and the Seasons Sarcophagus, Part 2
#115. The Met Fifth Avenue, Highlights Tour, First Floor, Part 1
#5868. The Met Fifth Avenue, Highlights Tour, First Floor, Part 2
Purchased by the Third Duke of Beaufort from Cardinal Giulio Alberoni (1664-1752) in Rome, the first recorded owner of the sarcophagus; 1727-28, brought to England from Italy and by 1733, installed in Badminton House; from around 1727, collection of the Dukes of Beaufort; acquired June 10, 1955, purchased from His Grace the Duke of Beaufort, Badminton House, Gloucestershire, England.
Sitwell, Osbert. 1942. "The Red Folder." Burlington Magazine, 80: p. 118.
Vermeule, Cornelius Clarkson. 1955. "Notes on a New Edition of Michaelis ; Ancient marbles in Great Britain." American Journal of Archaeology, 59(2): p. 130.
Redmond, Roland L. and Dudley T. Easby Jr. 1955. "Report of the Trustees for the Fiscal Year 1954-1955." Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 14(1): p. 15.
Alexander, Christine. 1955. "A Roman Sarcophagus from Badminton House." Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 14(2): pp. 39–47.
Frankfurter, Alfred M. 1956. "The Year's Best: 1955." Art News p. 40.
Matz, Friedrich. 1958. "Ein römisches Meisterwerk : der Jahreszeitensarkophag Badminton-New York." Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Ergänzungsheft, 19. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co.
Strong, Donald. 1961. Roman Imperial Sculpture: an introduction to the commemorative and decorative sculpture of the Roman Empire down to the death of Constantine. pp. 66, 101, fig. 115, London: Alec Tiranti Ltd.
Panofsky, Erwin. 1964. Tomb Sculpture: Four Lectures on its Changing Aspects from Ancient Egypt to Bernini. p. 34, fig. 107, New York: Harry N. Abrams.
Turcan, Robert. 1966. Les Sarcophages romains à représentations dionysiaques, essai de chronologie et d'histoire religieuse. pp. 278–80, Paris: E. de Boccard.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1970. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries. New York: Dutton.
Hoving, Thomas. 1970. "Director's Choice." Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 28(5): pp. 206–7.
McCann, Anna Marguerite. 1978. Roman Sarcophagi in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. no. 17, pp. 21–22, 24, 44, 48, 84, 90, 94–106, 135, 137, figs. 109–12, 11, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Sande, Siri. 1981. "The Myth of Marsyas: Pieces of a Sculptural Jigsaw." Metropolitan Museum Journal, 16: pp. 69–73, figs. 20, 23, 25–26.
Kossatz-Deissmann, Anneliese, Brigitte Servais-Soyez, Fulvio Canciani, Giovannangelo Camporeale, Hans Peter Isler, Ingrid Krauskopf, Odette Touchefeu-Meynier, Marcel Le Glay, and Dr. Jean-Charles Balty. 1986. Atherion-Eros, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, Vol. 3. Dionysos/Bacchus, no. 117, Zürich: Artemis Verlag.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1987. Greece and Rome. no. 122, pp. 156–57, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Kossatz-Deissmann, Anneliese, Brigitte Servais-Soyez, Fulvio Canciani, Giovannangelo Camporeale, Hans Peter Isler, Ingrid Krauskopf, Odette Touchefeu-Meynier, Marcel Le Glay, and Dr. Jean-Charles Balty. 1990. Herakles-Kenchrias, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, Vol. 5. Kairoi/Tempora anni, no. 156, Zürich: Artemis Verlag.
Ramage, Nancy H. and Prof. A. Ramage. 1991. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Roman Art. pp. 238–39, fig. 9.31, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kleiner, Diana E. E. 1992. Roman Sculpture. p. 392, fig. 362, New Haven: Yale University Press.
Bartman, Elizabeth. 1993. "Carving the Badminton Sarcophagus." Metropolitan Museum Journal, 28: pp. 57–71, figs. 1–4, 6–7, 9–10.
Kossatz-Deissmann, Anneliese, Brigitte Servais-Soyez, Fulvio Canciani, Giovannangelo Camporeale, Hans Peter Isler, Ingrid Krauskopf, Odette Touchefeu-Meynier, Marcel Le Glay, and Dr. Jean-Charles Balty. 1994. Oidipous-Theseus, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, Vol. 7. Pan, no. 217; Tellus, no. 23, Zürich: Artemis Verlag.
Howard Kathleen. 1994. Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide: Works of Art Selected by Philippe De Montebello. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ramage, Nancy H. and Prof. A. Ramage. 1996. Roman Art: Romulus to Constantine, 2nd Ed.. p. 254, fig. 3.32, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Hollinshead, Mary B. 1998. "Hair Struts in Late Roman Sculpture." Stephanos. Studies in Honor of Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, Kim J. Hartswick and Mary C. Sturgeon, eds. p. 121, fig. 13.4, Philadelphia: Bryn Mawr College.
Buxton, Richard. 2004. The Complete World of Greek Mythology. pp. 218–19, London: Thames and Hudson.
Zanker, Paul and Björn Christian Ewald. 2004. Mit mythen Leben: Die Bilderwelt der römischen Sarkophage. pp. 169, 170, 272 n.107, fig. 156, Munich: Hirmer.
Kräftner, Johann Dr., Tim Knox, Alvar González-Palacios, and Liechtenstein Museum. 2007. The Badminton Cabinet: commessi di pietre dure in the collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein, Dr. Johann Kräftner, ed. pp. 106–7, Munich: Prestel.
González-Palacios, Alvar, Dr. Johann Kräftner, and Tim Knox. 2007. "Alberoni Sarcophagus." The Badminton Cabinet. pp. 106–7, Munich, Berlin, London, New York: Prestel Publishing.
Picón, Carlos A. 2007. Art of the Classical World in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome no. 470, pp. 400–1, 497, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Lightfoot, Christopher S. 2011. "Predators and Prey." Minerva, 22 (1): p. 32, fig. 9.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2012. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. p. 80, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Vincent, Clare and J.H. Leopold. 2015. European Clocks and Watches in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. 240, 244, fig. 59, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.