Front panel from a child's sarcophagus, Nd
Purchase, gift of the Friends of the Vassar College Art Gallery and Noma and William Copley, by exchange
Classification: Decorative Art
Dimensions: Sight: 17 1/2 x 58 1/2 in. (44.45 x 148.59 cm)
Signatures, Inscriptions and Markings v
Inscribed (at upper edge): D FLABIVSCHRYSIONPATERETMATFILIAE COSSVTIAFLABIA DVLCISANNORY V?M
This sarcophagus panel, decorated with a chariot race among erotes, com- memorated the passing of a young girl. In translation, the inscription reads: “Dominus Flavius Chrysion the father, and the mother of the daughter Cossutia Flavia, the sweet one of five years.” The marble was probably imported from Asia Minor and the inscription possibly added at a later date. The idea of a chariot race among winged children is fantastic, but the details of the race are quite accurately rendered, down to the tower-like building, behind the third eros from the left, decorated with the sculpted eggs used to count the laps around a typical hippodrome. The race itself is conveyed with the action and confusion of horses and riders in pitched competition, some of the characters portrayed in triumph, others crashing in defeat. While the custom of holding chariot races as part of funerary games has a long history in ancient Greek and Roman history and literature, going back to the Iliad of Homer in the eighth century BCE, one may also read in this contest a symbolic meaning. The race represents the passage of time, with the specter of an early death being implied in the defeat of at least one of its child-like contestants.