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Fragment de couvercle de sarcophage anthropoïde : tête de femme de style chypriote

© 2007 RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Near Eastern Antiquities
Levant

Author(s):
Benoît Nicolas

This face of a woman, strongly influenced by Cypriot coroplastics, was originally part of the lid of a Phenician anthropoid sarcophagus made in the Amrit region. This was the only known example of such a work in terracotta until 5 similar sarcophagi from the same region were found in 1996. This discovery revealed the existence of a popular tradition of terracotta sarcophagi in the 5th century BC alongside the nobler marble sarcophagi reserved for wealthier families.

The face of a woman

This fragment of the lid of a terracotta sarcophagus joined the Louvre's Phenician collections in 1878. It shows a female protoma with applied and incised ornamentation. The woman owes her somewhat fixed expression to her broad forehead, long, straight nose, and large, protruding eyes with thick lids and thin, peaked brows. Below the prominent cheekbones is a hollow around the small mouth, which is nearly touching the nose. She is wearing a diadem or a stiff veil which reveals three rows of helicoidal curls on her forehead, two ringlets at her ears, and long wavy locks down to her shoulders. She also has a large earring in the lobe of each ear as well as three rings in the pinna, similar to the pieces of jewelry worn by Cypriot women to hide their ears. The remains of a necklace of round beads can be seen round her neck.

A range of influences

Overall, the work resembles the large clay works sculpted in Cyprus at the end of the 6th century BC, both in terms of the facial features and the jewelry. The face, hairstyle, and ringlets are also reminiscent of the large terracotta statue of the Athena of Olympia, which also dates from the late 6th century BC. The hairstyle in particular could be the reflection of a Persian fashion dating from the reign of Darius I (522-486 BC), which quickly became popular in both Greece and Cyprus. While the ringlets seem to owe their presence to a local tradition, the wavy locks of hair are inspired by archaic Greek art. Similar locks of hair are depicted on the marble anthropoid sarcophagi which were extremely popular in Phenicia from the 5th century BC onwards. This fragment should be understood in the context of this tradition.

Terracotta sarcophagi: a cheap luxury

It has long been known that the Phenicians buried their dead in anthropoid sarcophagi, but until recently, this fragment was the sole known example in terracotta. Then, in 1996, five whole terracotta sarcophagi were found in a tomb to the north of Amrit, thus corroborating the place of origin of this fragment, which was recorded as having been found in the Arwadian necropolis between Tortose (modern-day Tartus) and Amrit. The fragment has been dated to the late 6th or 1st half of the 5th century BC and is thus probably the earliest of the terracotta sarcophagi. In any case, it attests to the existence of a trade in sarcophagi made of terracotta rather than the usual marble. Just as in Egypt, where terracotta and wood sarcophagi have likewise been found, craftsmen living in northern Phenicia produced sarcophagi made of cheaper materials for less wealthy clients. The finished sarcophagus was painted, as indicated by the surviving traces of red and yellow pigment on this fragment, and they would have been a very good imitation of the more expensive marble models.
The terracotta sarcophagi from the Amrit region could also be the result of the meeting of local burial traditions dating back to the 2nd millennium BC, when the dead were buried in large jars with funeral masks, and the fledgling Phenician tradition, inspired by Egyptian funeral practises, of burying the dead in anthropoid sarcophagi made of stone. It should be noted that the terracotta sarcophagi drew heavily on the superb Cypriot tradition of modeling in clay.

Bibliography

Caubet Annie, Fontan Élisabeth, Gubel Éric (sous la dir. de), Art phénicien : la sculpture de tradition phénicienne, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, p. 47, n 33.
Elayi Josette, "Les Sarcophages phéniciens d'époque perse", in Iranica Antiqua, n 23, 1988, pp. 278-280.
Elayi Josette, Haykal Mohammed Raïf, Nouvelles découvertes sur les usages funéraires des Phéniciens d'Arwad, Paris, Gabalda, 1996, pp. 46-47, 87-115, pl. XXV : 2.
Gubel Éric (sous la dir. de), Les Phéniciens et le monde méditerranéeen, Exposition, Bruxelles, Générale de banque, 6 mars-6 mai 1986, puis Luxembourg, Banque générale du Luxembourg, 21 mai-6 juillet 1986, Bruxelles, Générale de banque, 1986, n 11, p. 94.
Portraits du Louvre : choix d'oeuvres dans les collections du Louvre, Exposition, Tokyo, Musée national d'art occidental, 18 septembre-1er décembre 1991, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1991.
Yon Marguerite, Caubet Annie, "Arouad et Amrit", in Transeuphratène, n 6, Paris, Gabalda, 1993, n 26, p. 63.

Technical description

  • Fragment de couvercle de sarcophage anthropoïde : tête de femme de style chypriote

    Fin VIe siècle avant J.-C.

    Entre Tartous et Amrit (Syrie)

  • Terre cuite, traces de peinture rouge et jaune

    H: 36.5 cm; L: 39.5 cm; Thickness: 22.5 cm

  • Acquisition 1878

    MNB 1293

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Levant: the Phoenician kingdoms, 8th–2nd century BC
    Room 17 a, temporarily closed to the public

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