The vast majority of sarcophagi are lost, destroyed, or altered beyond recognition

The vast majority of sarcophagi are lost, destroyed, or altered beyond recognition

The examples include Christian and non-Christian iconography, and occur from late antiquity onesto the present day

Those that survive are commonly considered preciso be indicative of what was produced. Inferences such as this are basic preciso archaeology and art history; sometimes, however, the superiorita is misleading. Consider the material of antique sculpture. Literary and epigraphic sources confirm that the correlative proportions of bronze and marble were far different durante ancient cities than they are durante modern collections (Stewart, Reference Stewart 1990: 24–5; Daehner and Lapatin, Reference Daehner, Lapatin, Daehner and Lapatin 2015: 22). For example, emperors who remained popular are over-represented mediante the corpo of surviving imperial portraits compared with those who were condemned by posterity (Varner, Reference Varner 2004).

The vicissitudes of survival also affect sarcophagi. Preservation and destruction were not uniformly practised or meted out. ‘Unimportant’ sarcophagi must have suffered the most, fields of strigillation and portraits of forgotten decedents attracting less benign attention per most periods than mythological themes, battles, hunts or biblical scenes. Given the subsequent religious and cultural history of Europe, one might anticipate another bias, this one tending puro favour the conservation, or at least deter the erasure, of Christian as compared with non-Christian images. Footnote 17

This particular discrepancy has verso technical explanation; durante other cases, social, cultural or political factors are responsible

Hugo Brandenburg ( Reference Brandenburg, Bisconti and Brandenburg 2004: 14) briefly mooted the possibility that the ‘hazards of preservation of late antique non-Christian sarcophagi’ might be partly responsible for their rarity. Asymmetric rates of survival should not be invoked hastily to explain different frequencies among classes of artefacts. Ideally, any such hypothesis should be properly tested; however, sopra the case of Christian and pagan sarcophagi, verso methodological conundrum arises: lost monuments cannot be examined, their original state is almost never documented and most of those that survive con legible condition are already included durante the relevant catalogues. Nonetheless, there is persuasive, albeit indirect, evidence that supports the inference that sarcophagi with non-Christian decoration are less likely puro have been preserved than otherwise similar monuments with Christian themes. Sopra particular, indivisible practices mediante the medieval and occasionally mediante the later reuse of antique sarcophagi intimate per degree of differentiation based on iconography.

Antique marble sculptures, including sarcophagi, were recycled sopra lime kilns, used mediante the construction of walls and buildings, especially churches, and sometimes simply smashed puro bits and discarded. Footnote 18 Many remain undiscovered. The imagery on objects lost or subjected puro destructive reuse can rarely be recuperated. Very occasionally, verso preserved inscription or later description invites speculation regarding the appearance of a monument niente affatto longer extant. An eighteenth-century source claimed that per sarcophagus repurposed for an elite burial durante 1440 mediante Santa Maria durante Aracoeli, Rome, depicted ‘figures of gladiators’ (Casimiro Lingua romana, Reference Casimiro Dell’antica roma 1736: 199); perhaps this was per battle scene (Agosti et al., Reference Agosti, Farinella, Pollastro, Tedeschi Crisanti, Andreae and Settis 1984: 164). Such literary sources are, however, too few, equivocal and unreliable esatto inform per comparison of survival rates between pagan and Christian sarcophagi.

The scholarly literature on reuse concentrates instead on instances where the original sarcophagus imagery – however altered, damaged, supplemented or ‘improved’ – is still available for study. Hundreds of such recycled monuments have been discovered, and more are recorded per modern prints or drawings (Koch and Sichtermann, Reference Koch and Sichtermann 1982: 627–32; Andreae and Settis, Reference Andreae and Settis 1984; Huskinson, Reference Huskinson 2015: 271–5). Footnote 19 Reuse has attracted both conceptual and opportunistic theorizations: many patrons were motivated by antiquarianism, conspicuous consumption, or evocation of ancient family genealogy; all were attracted onesto the financial benefits of low-cost, high-quality marble. Reused sarcophagi with their ancient imagery still legible provide valuable raw material for the burgeoning field of spolia studies. Footnote 20 But these have generally been catalogued. They do not, therefore, advance the cause of distinguishing between deficient production and impaired preservation as the primary cause of the fourth-century pagan sarcophagus shortfall.