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Sarcophagus


© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré
This famous sarcophagus was reused during the Middle Ages in the cloister of Saint-Sernin.

The cover and the basin may not have been together during Antiquity.

The vegetal motifs, particularly the vine tendrils, are reminiscent of many mosaics covering the villa’s floors during the same period.
The Christians, devotedly performing burials, designed an entire iconography for the stone tombs borrowing from pagan imagery but adding a new meaning.
In the center of the lid, a laurel crown, the symbol of victory, is supported by two nude, winged Genies, the origin of the future iconography of angles represented in the following centuries.
This tradition originates from a long Roman tradition linked to the emperors’ triumph.

On the sarcophagus’s basin, this image alludes to the victory over death. Inside the crown two intertwined Greek letters, Chi and Rho, are inscribed. They are the first letter of Christos, the Greek name for Christ. This motif, called Chi Rho, means that the buried person was a Christian. The vine, however, is a symbol of eternity borrowed from the Dionysiac religion. The vine branches spill out of the kantharos, Dionysus’s drinking vessel, which will become the chalice used during the Eucharist. This vine evokes the evangelical text that refers to Christ’s speech to his apostles saying: “I am the real vine, my Father is the vine-dresser… I am the vine itself, you are the branches.”

© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré
In the basin’s central picture, a person kills a wild boar with a spear. He is framed by two taller figures.
Some see a mythological story in this work: Meleager and the Dioscuri - Castor and Pollux - hunting the Calydonian boar. The aristocratic hunting expedition motif was often reproduced following a specific style on Roman sarcophaguses from the second and third centuries CE.  
The deceased faced with death was treated as a mythological hero facing the same peril. But here, through the faith represented in the symbols, death is only a passage to eternal life for the believer.

Meleager’s Calydonian Boar Hunt: Marble sarcophagus discovered in Toulouse (Saint-Sernin).
Late fourth century or fifth century.
Inv. Ra 505a
Lu 871 fois

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