Life Death & Revelry

The Farnese Sarcophagus

An in-depth examination of one of the most important ancient works in America, the exquisite Farnese Sarcophagus.
Date Published :
May 2018
Publisher :
Paul Holberton Publishing
Editor :
Christina Nielson
Illustration :
125 full color illustrations
No associated books available.


In terms of antiquarian fame, the Farnese Sarcophagus – elaborately carved with satyrs and maenads gathering grapes – may be the most important work of art in the Gardner collection, and perhaps of its type in America. A large, rectangular coffin of Pentelic marble, the Farnese Sarcophagus was exported from Athens to the area of Rome in the late Severan period, between c. 222 and 235 AD. The carving of the satyrs and maenads was especially suited to the artistic tastes of Mannerist and Baroque Rome, providing one of the most elegant examples of Greek imperial optic elongation to have survived from ancient times.

Life Death & Revelry will offer a multi-disciplinary, multi-era look at this important monument. Published to accompany an exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, it will bring together archaeological analyses of the piece and its previous restorations, and numerous Renaissance prints and drawings depicting the sarcophagus during its time in Rome.

About The Author

Christina Nielsen is the William and Lia Poorvu Curator of the Collection and Exhibition Program at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. She has published widely on ancient and medieval art, and on the history of collecting medieval art in 19th- and 20th-century America.


"Just as great artworks exert their influence and instill pleasure long after the conditions that created them, so great exhibition catalogues outlive the displays they accompany. Such is the case with Christina Nielsen’s Life, Death and Revelry [which] combines subjectivity and science to tell the life story of the Sarcophagus from antiquity to the present, where it inspires artists to respond to its stimuli with sound and image. Unusually for a book about one object, it also succeeds in being an informative introduction to ancient funerary ritual, ancient sculpture and its reception." 

- Times Literary Supplement, November 2018

"Lavishly illustrated ... [a] highly rewarding exercise of scholarly collaboration."

- The Classical Review, December 2018

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