Early Christian Sarcophagi Outside of Rome

Authored by: Guntram Koch

The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Art

Print publication date:  May  2018
Online publication date:  May  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138857223
eBook ISBN: 9781315718835
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315718835-4

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Abstract

Rome was the center of production of early Christian sarcophagi, and exports from Rome went to cities in Italy, France, Spain, and western North Africa. In some regions, local workshops imitated imported examples in marble from the end of the third to the beginning of the fifth century ce. Many examples survive in Arles; fewer in other locations. Sarcophagi with no connections with Rome are few, but an outstanding and large group from the Aquitania region in western France consists of pieces made of local marble carved from about 400–500 ce. They differ dramatically from the Roman production. In Ravenna a small number of sarcophagi survive, most of them of good quality and not produced locally, but imported fully carved from Constantinople. At Constantinople, the capital of the empire from 330 ce, relatively few pieces survive, in comparison with Rome. Most are marble or limestone fragments. Over the centuries, many of the sarcophagi of Constantinople—often discovered by chance—were burnt to lime or reused as building material. Only a few pieces of good quality remain; the majority of extant works are rather coarsely executed. The reason may have been that good sculptors working with marble were engaged in constructing the official buildings and churches in the new capital. In the provinces of the Balkans, Asia Minor, and the Near East, customs changed noticeably in early Christian times. Very few persons spent money for their own grave monuments and sarcophagi; more often, people of means donated large sums for the building and decoration of churches. Consequently, rather few sarcophagi were produced in the fourth to sixth centuries, in contrast to the second and third centuries. All these are without figural representations, and are decorated only with crosses and some ornaments.

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