Reference Entry

Sarcophagus

David M. Jones, Robert S. Bianchi, Dominique Collon, Susan Walker, Susan Pinto Madigan, Michael Morris, Charles Avery, Sian E. Jay, Henrik H. Sørensen and Madeline McLeod

in Oxford Art Online

ISBN: 9780198604761
Published online January 2003 | e-ISBN: 9781884446054 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T075996
Sarcophagus

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Chest for inhumation. The term (from anc. Gr. sarkophagous: ‘flesh eating’, from a type of limestone thought to consume the bodies laid in it) is generally applied to substantial or decorated types of coffin, of which there are examples from many different contexts worldwide.

Since the burial rituals associated with a particular culture or civilization are often the focus for some of its most concentrated artistic activity, decorated sarcophagi can provide exceptional examples of sculpture and painting. Moreover, whatever the quality of this work, the scenes, figures, and motifs represented, together with accompanying inscriptions, are likely to embody important aspects of an entire cultural background (for example religious iconography, mythological narratives, ruler portraits, or other socio-historical details).

Sarcophagi naturally tend to be found where the prevailing practice has been inhumation rather than cremation: there are thus, for example, few Roman sarcophagi from before the 2nd century ad. Their form may be influenced by religious beliefs, as in the boat coffins of the ...

Reference Entry.  8849 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Sculpture and Carving ; Art Techniques and Principles

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