Sarcophagus with Scenes from the Lives of Saint Peter and Christ

Date: early 300s, with modern restoration

Culture: Roman

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: 26 1/2 × 83 1/2 × 24 3/8 in. (67.3 × 212.1 × 61.9 cm)

Classification: Sculpture-Stone

Credit Line: Gift of Josef and Marsy Mittlemann, 1991

Accession Number: 1991.366


This sarcophagus was carved about 312, when Christianity was first recognized as a legal faith within the Roman empire. The two legendary scenes of Saint Peter's arrest in Rome and the miracle of drawing water from a rock performed in his jail cell are among the earliest surviving images depicting his special relationship with that city. In the scene of his arrest, carved in a powerful, deep relief at the left end, Roman soldiers grab his arms. In his cell, soldiers kneel at his feet as he uses a wand, now partially lost, to extract water from the walls.

Scenes from the life of Christ are represented on the right. When the sarcophagus was published in 1879, only the figures' lower legs survived. An incorrect identification of the figures then led to an inaccurate restoration, in 1910, of the upper portion of the scenes carved in low relief. Originally four scenes from the life of Christ decorated the sarcophagus—the Entry into Jerusalem, the Cure of the Man Born Blind, the Multiplication of the Loaves, and the Raising of Lazarus. In the modern restoration, the Cure of the Man Born Blind was omitted and his feet used for the small frightened child depicted in the Entry into Jerusalem. Roughly carved in very low relief on the ends are two Old Testament events—the Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace, considered by the early church a foretelling of humankind's salvation through Christ, and Adam and Eve after the Fall by the Tree of Knowledge, representing the sin for which Christ will save humankind.