Kiss My Sarcophagus

One of the great things about working at the National Academy is the proximity to the Metropolitan Museum. If you’re finished early enough, you can enjoy a lovely five block stroll down Fifth Avenue and take in the Met’s countless, inspiring treasures. Today I modeled only for the morning session. So at 12:00, to the Met I went!

My primary reason for going to the museum was to see the Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand photography exhibition (which was INCREDIBLE, by the way!), but I always find myself wandering into the Greek and Roman Galleries whenever I’m there. The atmosphere is rarified and bright, and unlike some of the dimly lit galleries upstairs, the Greek and Roman is an ideal place to take pictures.

A sarcophagus is basically a stone coffin. The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all used sarcophagi to inter their dead. Since they were meant to remain above-ground sarcophagi were often ornately designed, with mythological figures and stories carved into the stone. So what you have are amazing relief sculptures that are as impressive and elaborate as anything you’ll see. Marble, limestone, alabaster, and metals were all used for sarcophagi. A sarcophagus could have either stood alone freestanding or been part of a larger tomb construction. When the Christian practice of burying the dead in the ground became widespread, sarcophagus use gradually disappeared. King Tut’s tomb held an enormous sarcophagus – nine feet long and nine feet high- which contained the famous solid gold coffin that held the mummified remains of the King. Actually I think it was a coffin inside another coffin inside another coffin, in the sarcophagus, in the tomb. I’m not sure 😕

There are three significant sarcophagi in the Greek and Roman Galleries. I photographed all of them at varying spots and angles. Click to enlarge for up close detail and dimension.

You find many players in these scene depictions: cherubs on chariots, bears, lions, horses, minotaurs, garlands of flowers, grapes, and pomegranates, the Greek hero Theseus and the princess Ariadne, Dionysus, Endymion, the whole gang.

Sealed inside an intricately sculpted sarcophagus is a grand way to spend eternity. A bit more stylish than a pine box! You gotta hand it to those Greeks and Romans – they went all out!

8 thoughts on “Kiss My Sarcophagus

  1. Jeff LaMarche says:

    Hey, Claudia!

    Long time now comment! :-/ I do still read your blog pretty religiously, just haven’t taken the time to say “hi” in a while.

    But, I couldn’t not comment about this piece. That’s one of my most favorite pieces in the Met (the Harriet Whitney Frishmuth piece you posted a while back is another). It’s also one work that pictures fail to do justice to. In person, you can just feel the sheer mass of that thing and appreciate the amount of effort it took to create it with the tools of the age.

    I was in NYC last week and noticed that there’s another famous sarcophagus in town. Have you seen King Tut yet?


    • artmodel says:

      JEFF!!!!!!!!!! It is GREAT to hear from you!!! I have wondered what happened to you, both here and your blog iSculpt, which I believe you discontinued?

      Anyway, I’m delighted that you’ve been reading Museworthy all along 🙂 I did not see the recent King Tut exhibit unfortunately. I think it’s over now. I did, however, see it the first time it came here, which was about 30 years ago!!

      You’re right about the sarcophagus. Pictures are ok, but don’t convey the true breadth and depth and intricacy of the work.

      Thank you so much, Jeff, for bringing your voice back to Museworthy comments! Hope everything has been well with you.


  2. doug rogers says:

    Mass, yes. Having ever seen only reproductions, had NO idea they were that big. Sarcophagus duh. What a startle when I saw the last picture with a person standing beside it.

    • artmodel says:


      Yes, the mass is incredible, and the thickness. I probably should have taken more pictures that show the scale in context.

      Thanks for your comments!


  3. Gavin says:

    I’m jealous now. We don’t get much Roman or Greek sculpture where I live (although we do have the wall they built to hide from the Scots just a few miles away). I always prefered the Greeks anyway, the Romans were a bunch of copycats and I’ve still not forgiven them for killing Boudicca.

    • artmodel says:


      It’s funny about your comment because when I visited England (many years ago) one of my favorite places was Bath. Quite a sightseeing treasure built by your pals the Romans! But I think I prefer the Greeks too, generally.


  4. Cool, in both senses of the word. Wondering: Did the Greeks paint their sarcophagi, like they did their marble statutes?

    • artmodel says:


      I don’t know about the painting, but they did add adornments to some sarcopagi such as stones, jewels, etc. The sarcophagi in my photos were not painted obviously.


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