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Work Sarcophagus of Saint Drausinus

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Christian and Byzantine Art

Cuve de sarcophage

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Christian and Byzantine Art

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This sixth-century sarcophagus case was found at Soissons in the ancient church of Notre-Dame. According to local tradition, it held the remains of Saint Drausinus, the bishop of Soissons, who died about 680 AD. The nature of the decoration-grapevines interspersed with chrisms-and the low-relief technique reveal the originality of this type of production, which developed in the late fourth century AD in southwest Gaul, on the periphery of Roman artistic traditions.

The "sarcophagus of Saint Drausinus": a production of the school of Aquitaine

This sarcophagus, whose cover has been lost, comes from the ancient church of Notre-Dame at Soissons. According to local tradition, it held the remains of Saint Drausinus, the bishop of Soissons, who died around 680 AD. After the French revolution, it was placed in the Musée des Monuments Français by Alexandre Lenoir before entering the Louvre in the early nineteenth century. It belongs to a small number of rather original sarcophagi, all of which originated in southwest Gaul. Starting in the late fifth century AD, workshops in Aquitaine created very specific productions, noticeably different from Roman-era sarcophagi. The corners of the case feature thin columns, and the decoration reveals a distinct preference for plant motifs.

Chrisms and grapevines

Unusually, this sarcophagus is decorated on all four sides unlike similar pieces from Aquitaine, which have one blank side that would have been placed against the wall of a burial chamber. Intended to be visible from all sides, this sarcophagus probably was displayed in the center of the tomb. The back face is divided into three rectangular panels decorated with strigils; in the center are rosettes and a chrism, surrounded by a crown of foliage in which two birds are nesting. The plant motifs, characteristic of the school of Aquitaine, are even more prominent on the sarcophagus's principal face. Here vines heavy with grapes spring from two rosettes, covering the relief with their sinuous curves. The monogram of Christ appears in the center, created from the Greek letters chi and rho, symbolizing the Greek name Christos. This is flanked by the letters alpha and omega, the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet, reminding the viewer that God is the beginning and the end. The decoration of the short ends of the case is similar to the long reliefs: a rosette and chrism. On one end these are surrounded by two stylized bushes, and on the other by grapevines.

A controversial date

The singularity of this sarcophagus, the absence of figural motifs, and the very low relief have given rise to a number of estimates regarding its date. These range from the Roman era to the sixth century AD. Although still a matter of debate, it is generally agreed that it was created around the end of the sixth century.


Fr. Baratte & C. Metzger, Musée du Louvre. Catalogue de sarcophages en pierre des époques romaine et paléochrétiene, Paris, 1985, p. 325-326, n 220
H.S. Sivan, "Funerary Monuments and Funerary Rites in Late Antique Aquitaine", Oxford Journal of Archaeology, vol. 5, 1986, p. 349, fig. 12
A. Dain, Inscriptions grecques du Musée du Louvre : les textes inédits, 1933, p. 157-158, n 180

Technical description

  • Cuve de sarcophage

    VIe siècle après J.-C.

    Soissons, ancienne église Notre-Dame

  • Marbre

    l. : 2,12 m. ; L. : 0,76 m ; H. : 0,53 m.

  • Déposé par A. Lenoir au musée des Monuments français, signalé au Louvre vers 1825

    Inventaire MR 886 (n° usuel Ma 2955)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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