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Sarcophagus With Scenes From The Life of Achilles


Artworks from the ancient time period are innovative concepts that depict the circumstances, culture, and events at the time. The Getty Museum or Villa was the selected choice of museum for this analysis because of its varieties of the ancient features as well as the natural exploration, artifacts, and antiquities embedded in it. The chosen artwork is “Sarcophagus with scenes from the life of Achilles.” Basically, the artwork is a depiction of an ancient concept that shows a funeral receptacle for a corpse. The Getty Museum is a highly innovative concept of renovation. The galleries are an extreme work of art, and comprises of little pavilions, each having a few galleries. The colors of the walls vary; the concepts are based on the best views and backgrounds suitable to depict its purpose. The lightings convey a sense of beauty to the contents of the museum; every part of the museum is illuminated and moderately brightened, and thus gives the colors of the museum great feelings of art. The architectural design of the museum communicates friendliness, perfect crafts, and attraction. All the physical spaces are very intimate and would encourage anyone to come explore. The artworks are displayed with different approaches depending on the nature, size, purpose, and what it communicates. Most of the artworks are displayed on pedestals, others are in frames, and some on the walls.

Brief Description of the Artwork

The “sarcophagus with scenes  the life of Achilles” is an artwork that shows a funeral receptacle for a corpse. It is usually carved out or cut from a stone. There were no records as to which artist made this artwork, but it was made in an Attic workshop in Athens, Greece around 180-220 and based on the Roman culture. It’s of dimensions 134 x 211 x 147 cm, and it has been well preserved, only slight damages around the left and right sides. This work of art shows the life of the Greek hero Achilles, who decorates the sides of the sarcophagus. Visually, the front shows the hero himself, Achilles desecrating the fallen Trojan hero Hektor’s corpse and dragging it behind his chariot with other hosts around him. It is obvious from the artwork that Achilles had his armor on him and was hiding among the daughters of King Lykomedes on Skros. Therefore, the scene in this artwork depicts the battle of the Greeks and centaurs, as well as the life of Achilles, after he acquired knowledge from the centaur Chiron. Therefore, Achiles’ life was a major aspect of the time, and became very popular for the decoration of the Roman sarcophagi.

On the artifact, there is a man and woman lean back on an upholstered couch. This is so because the common practice at the time was based on this fact that the heads of the figure were not completely finished, so that a deceased portrait can be carved when the sarcophagus is purchased. But in this artwork, the portraits were not carved, and the heads of the figures were left unfinished without a reason. Basically, the popular custom during the time period from about 150 to 250 A.D. was the burial in a sarcophagus. And at the time, there were very few centers where the sarcophagi was produced in mass quantity, only the one in Athens. The sarcophagi is usually carved on its four sides, and usually surmounted with figures that are reclined.

Analysis and Presentation of the Research

The sarcophagus is a three-dimensional rectangular object made of a massive lid as a covering made to have a shape of a flat couch having two figures with an unfinished head reclining on it. Obviously, the figures are slightly different and has the depiction of a male and female. The female has long hair, a round face, and a small breast. The male has a beard, and other detail of his face seems to be masculine and angular. The two figures have long clothes on. The sides of the artwork are carved. The figure also has a man holding a big shield at the central figure of the front relief and stepping out of a chariot and listening to a man that seem to be pointing in a direction. There are other naked male and dressed warriors in the figure, and a naked male figure on the ground seemed to be tied to the chariot. A male warrior is seen to be moving away and looking at the others who stays. The other relief on the left seem not to be doing anything. There’s a man in the central figure having a helmet and a shield behind him. The figure shows that he’s been helped by the other men.

The main study in the visible sides of the sarcophagi is the scenes from the life of Achilles. According to Hunter (1997), Achilles is a Greek mythical hero that fought tirelessly in the Trojan War. It is observed that the Achilles is hiding among the daughters of Lykomedes, while his mother, Thetis, was trying to prevent her son from death and thus, sent him to hide among the girls. He was later discovered by Odyssey, and moves towards Troy. At the front of the relief, Achilles is seen to mount his chariot in an attempt to drag Hector’s body around the walls of Troy. This was as a result of Hector mistakenly killing Achilles’ friend, Patroclus. Therefore, the scene speaks more about the battle between the centaurs and the Greek which is not in relation to Achilles’ life. The commonest funerary practice in the Roman Empire was cremation. According to Toynbee, this was under the influence of the Christian religion where inhumation was popular by the third century. This shift resulted in the abrupt demand for the sarcophagi, and the design became imminent. This also became a subject of finance in the Roman Empire. And many were made custom for those who need it, that’s why the faces of the couple on the lid are not finished in order to be able to add later. Basically, this concept was based on the myth about Achilles as a Greek hero, there were no serious emotions on the faces of the figures.

  • Hunter, James. “Achilles.” Achilles. 1997. Accessed January 30, 2016. https://www.pantheon.org/articles/a/achilles.html.
  • “Sarcophagus with Lid and 4 Unjoined Fragments (Getty Museum).” The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles. Accessed January 30, 2016. https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/28185/unknown-maker-made-in-an-attic-workshop-sarcophagus-with-lid-and-4-unjoined-fragments-roman-180-220/?dz=0.5000,0.4402,0.64.
  • Toynbee, J. M. C. Death and Burial in the Roman World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971.
  • Sarcophegus with Lid and 4 Unjoined Fragments (Getty Museum). The J. Getty in Los Angeles. Hunter, James. “Achilles.” Achilles. 1997. Accessed January 30, 2016. https://www.pantheon.org/articles/a/achilles.html.
  • Toynbee, J. M. C. Death and Burial in the Roman World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971.

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