Roman art, Sarcophagus of the Spouses with Mercury

Ancient roman sculptor
3rd century AD
Sala del Paradiso
Original location
Area known as Paradise: between the facade of the Cathedral and the Baptistery, outdoors
White marble
Height: 128 cm; Width: 248 cm; Length: 128 cm;

This marble sarcophagus, quadrangular in shape and lacking a cover, is a work of Roman art from the third century AD. The decoration features allegories, mythological figures and portraits, set in the context of an architectural proscenium. In the two side aedicules we see a married couple: the wife, to the left of the viewer, is veiled, and at her feet she bears the attributes of the peacock and the flower; the husband, on the right, is bald, elderly and wears a toga. Beside him stands his son, and at the bottom there are a set of scrolls on a casket that speak of his profession, possibly as a scholar or intellectual. The portal is between two Victories and two personifications of favorable fortune; in the tympanum is an eagle, symbolic of eternity. From the central door, depicting the entry to Hades, the psychopomp god Mercury peeps out, with his petasos winged cap. Two Cerberus monsters stand guard at sides of the passage.

This is one of the quite numerous sarcophagi adapted in medieval times for the entombment of the dead in the cemetery known as del Paradiso (“of Paradise”), located between the ancient Church of Santa Reparata and the Baptistery of Florence. In later times, this sarcophagus was placed together with a similar one inside the Cathedral, then both of these were mounted on corbels in the facade of the nearby Company of the Laudesi. In the 19th century the sarcophagi were removed, for exhibition in the courtyard of Palazzo Medici Riccardi. After a century they were placed on the sides of the south door of the Baptistery; dismounted after the great flood of Florence in 1966, both sarcophagi were restored and then situated in the external courtyard of the Museo dell'Opera, until finally coming to this museum in 1998.

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Sala del Paradiso