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Home > Auctions > 5th December 2023 > Roman Lead Coffin Panel with Sphinx, Medusa and Dolphins

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LOT 0161

GBP (£) 800 - 1,000
EUR (€) 930 - 1,170
USD ($) 1,010 - 1,260

Sold for (Inc. bp): £1,820

35 1/2 in. (19.75 kg, 90 cm).

Decorated with patterns comprising sphinxes, dolphins, and masks of Medusa in fields between columns, and floral border strips with laurel leaves.

Acquired 1970s-early 1990s.
Property of a North American collector.
London collection, 2016.

This lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by search certificate no.11993-209841.

See Payne, G., 'Roman Leaden Coffin discovered at Plumstead' in Archaeologia Cantiana, Vol.17, 1887, fig.10, for the presence of lead sarcophagi in Roman Britain; for a similar specimen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession no.31.116a-i; Penn Museum, coffin panel B10280, from Lebanon (Tyre).

There were many ways of burying bodies during the Roman Empire. Although the majority were buried without coffins, there is evidence for wooden coffins, lead-framed wooden coffins, tile burials and lead and stone coffins. This item belongs to types widespread in the Eastern Mediterranean. The panel is decorated with a columned structure, and within each section are symbols of the outer-world, including gorgons,
sphinx and dolphins. The sphinx, having a human head and breasts, legs and paws of a lion, and wings of a bird, was generally associated with protecting imperial tombs and temples. The roundels featuring the head of Medusa, known for her potent gazes that could turn one to stone, was favoured on sarcophagi and architectural ornaments because it was believed that her image would protect those within. The dolphin was considered to ferry the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Very often these sarcophagi were connected by a pipe to the ground above so that
mourners could pour in offerings into the grave.