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A Marble Mythological Sarcophagus Panel of the Rape of Persephone, Roman Imperial

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A Marble Mythological Sarcophagus Panel of the Rape of Persephone, Roman Imperial\n, circa A.D. 190-200, A Marble Mythological Sarcophagus Panel of the Rape of Persephone, Roman Imperial\nCarved with Demeter holding a torch and driving a two-horse chariot, Iris in the background with billowing drapery, a reclining figure of Tellus below, Persephone kneeling in the foreground gathering flowers in a basket, and a group of goddesses, Aphrodite, Artemis, and Athena attempting to restrain Hades from carrying off Persephone to the underworld on his chariot; the right end of the scene, including the horses of Hades and the leading figure of Hermes, now missing.\n39 by 69 3/4 in. 99 by 177.16 cm.


For a closely related example, most likely from the same workshop, in the Villa Albani (inv. no. 139) see Carl Robert, op. cit., 1919, no. 410 (G. Gasparri, in P.C. Bol, ed., Forschungen zur Villa Albani. Katalog der antiken Bildwerke, vol. III, Berlin, pp. 46-47, no. 262, pls. 15-20).

According to Ovid's poetic account, "Proserpina was playing, gathering flowers, violets, or white lilies, and so many the basket would not hold them all, but still she was eager – the other girls must never beat her at picking blossoms! So in one moment, or almost one, she was seen, and loved, and taken in Pluto's rush of love. She called her mother, her comrades, but more often for her mother... and the earth opened, and the chariot plunged through the new crater down to Hell" (Metamorphoses, 5.389-458, transl. Rolfe Humphries). The subsequent story tells of an irate Demeter withdrawing the gifts of fertility from the earth, searching frantically for her daughter, and finally obtaining from Hades a promise that Persephone spend at least half of each year with her on earth, thus making the earth flower in rebirth. This important myth, with its emphasis on death and renewal, was particularly appropriate for sarcophagus decoration. It was at the center of the Greek fertility cult known as the Eleusinian mysteries, which promised their initiates a better fate in the afterlife, and lasted well into the Roman period (see Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, Cambridge, Mass., 1985, pp. 289-290).

About a year prior to selling the present relief to Lord Shelburne, the Rome-based English painter and antiquities dealer Gavin Hamilton offered it first to Charles Townley: "I have got now restoring a bassorelievo of the rape of Proserpine being the front of a sarcophagus. The subject is common, and the sculpture the usual style of those sort of monuments, though of the best kind, and a good deal fragmented. There wants the horses of Pluto and several other small parts. The head of Ceres and two of the Nymphs I have replaced with antique heads. You may probably remember this piece as you saw it in Rome in one of my rooms on the ground floor. The price of it completely restored is 75 pounds, which considering restoration and original cost only saves me; if this can be of any service to you pray acquaint me by the return of the post, that I may secure the licence" (letter of Oct. 7th, 1775, in Bignamini and Hornsby, op. cit., p. 75; punctuation and spelling modernized). Less than a year later Hamilton offered several marbles to Lord Shelburne "for your Lordship's summer house or garden," including the present relief, for about the same price he gave to Townley: "I gave Adams formerly a hundred crowns for the bas-relief of the rape of Proserpine. What restoration is done costs me 60 crowns, for which price I send it, and hope it will be acceptable, though it still wants part of one end" (letter of July 13th, 1776, in Bignamini and Hornsby, op. cit., p. 89).

Photo three shows the Ballroom at Landsdown House, Loneon, prior to 1930, showing lots 45 and 46 set into the wall above the arches at right (Country Life Picture Library).




Santa Barbara Museum of Art, May 1993 to January 1998


39 by 69 3/4 in. 99 by 177.16 cm.


letter from Gavin Hamilton to Townley, October, 7th, 1775 (Ilaria Bignamini and Clare Hornsby, Digging and Dealing in 18th Century Rome, vol. I, New Haven and London, vol. II, 2010, p. 75)

letter from Gavin Hamilton to Lord Shelburne, July 13th, 1776 (Christie, Manson & Woods, 1930 sale catalogue, pp. 95-96; Bignamini and Hornsby, op. cit. p. 89)

K.O. Müller, in Böttiger's Amalthea, vol. III, 1825, pp. 247ff.

Gerhard, Akad. Abh., II, p. 484

Foerster, Der Raub und die Rückkehr der Persephone und ihrer Bedeutung für die Mythologie, Litteratur- und Kunst-Geschichte, Stuttgart, 1874, pp. 198-199, no. 5

Adolf Michaelis, Archäologischer Zeitung, vol. 32, 1874

Johannes Adolf Overbeck, Griechische Kunstmythologie, II, 4: Demeter und Kora, 1873-1878, p. 633, no. 31

Adolf Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, Cambridge, 1882, p. 460, no. 77

Foerster, Philologus, Suppl.-Bd. IV, 1884, p. 703

Carl Robert, Die antiken Sarkophagreliefs. Einzelmythen. Niobiden bis Triptolemos. Ungedeutet (ASR 3, 3), Berlin, 1919, pp. 490-491, no. 411,1

Arthur Sambon, Aperçu général de l'évolution de la sculpture, Paris, 1931, p. 30, pl. 31,2

Guntram Koch, "Verschollene mythologische Sarkophage. Ein archäologischer Steckbrief," Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1976, p. 110-111, fig. 23

Guntram Koch and Hellmut Sichtermann, Römische Sarkophage, Munich, 1982, p. 178

Ruth Lindner, Der Raub der Persephone in der antiken Kunst, Würzburg, 1984, p. 82, cat. no. 110

Jonathan Scott, The Pleasures of Antiquity: British Collectors of Greece and Rome, New Haven, 2003, p. 166, fig. 129

Ilaria Bignamini and Clare Hornsby, Digging and Dealing in 18th Century Rome, vol. I, New Haven and London, vol. I, 2010, p. 225

Arachne. Datenbank und Kulturelle Archive des Forschungsarchiv für Antike Plastik Köln, no. 51202


Robert and James Adams (1728-1792, and 1732-1794), Rome

Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798), Rome, acquired from the above circa 1775

Sir William Petty Fitzmaurice (1737-1805), 2nd Earl of Shelburne and later 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, Lansdowne House, acquired from the above in 1776

by descent to Henry Petty Fitzmaurice (1872-1936), 6th Marquess of Lansdowne (Christie, Manson & Woods, London, Catalogue of the Celebrated Collection of Ancient Marbles the Property of the Most Honourable The Marquess of Lansdowne, March 5th, 1930, no. 66)

Arthur Sambon Collection, Paris, as of 1931

Adolph Loewi, Loewi-Robertson, Inc., Los Angeles, California (seen there by Cornelius Vermeule in early 1970)

Los Angeles private collection, acquired from the above in 1970

by descent to the present owner

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.