EARLY CHRISTIAN SCULPTOR, Italian
(active around 349 in Rome)

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

349
Marble, 120 x 140 x 120 cm
Museo Tresoro, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican

This marble Sarcophagus was used for the burial of Junius Bassus (317-359), a member of the senatorial aristocracy in Rome. His family held high political positions. Junius Bassus himself was a praefectus urbi as well, which was the highest level of administrative function in the city of Rome at that time. He converted to Christianity and was baptized on his deathbed.

The Senate decided to give Junius Bassus the honour of a public funeral, because he was still in office as praefectus urbi at the time of his death. The sarcophagus was placed behind the 'confessio' (typical early-Christian resting-place under an altar for a saint or martyr) of St. Peter. The back of the sarcophagus, which is blank, indicates that this side was presumably adjacent to this confessio.

On the front side, ten scenes derived from the Old Testament (four scenes) and the New Testament (six scenes) are carved into the marble. The left and right side also contain scenes.

The scenes on the front side are (from left to right): (1) Sacrifice of Isaac; (2) Arrest of Peter; (3) Enthroned Christ with Peter and Paul (traditio legis); (4-5) Trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilatus; (6) Job at the Dunghill; (7) Adam and Eve; (8) Christ's Entry to Jerusalem on a Donkey; (9) Daniel in the Lion's Den; (10) Leading to the Execution of the Apostle Paul.

The two end panels depict four scenes, two on each end, representing the four seasons. They show typical occupations of the seasons, namely, harvesting grapes, wheat and olives executed by Cupids.




© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.