Marble sarcophagus lid with reclining couple

Period: Imperial, Severan

Date: ca. A.D. 220

Culture: Roman

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: length 91in. (231.1cm)

Classification: Stone Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1993

Accession Number: 1993.11.1


The sarcophagus lid is carved in the form of a couch with S-shaped sides and back. The Romans adopted this popular form of funerary sculpture (previously not represented in the collection) from their neighbors the Etruscans, who had been commemorating their dead with recumbent figures carved on the lids of stone sarcophagi and urns since the late fifth century B.C. Most early Roman examples of this type were designed as independent monuments placed within the tomb, but sarcophagi with kline lids began to appear in the early second century A.D.
Many workshops produced sarcophagi with stock figures that would later be personalized with portrait features, but the iconography of this lid is so unusual that it was more likely a special commission. The man is shown bare-chested, holding a water reed and accompanied by a lizardlike creature, in a manner reminiscent of Hellenistic river gods. The woman holds a garland and sheaves of wheat, suggesting identification with the earth goddess Tellus. The husband probably died first and for some reason his wife's head was never completed.