Marble Fragment and Descent from Cross Analysis

The Marble sarcophagus fragment and Plaque with the Descent from the Cross both show the death of someone important, and the grieving of the people who care about them. However, the artists’ way of thinking is very different in both, and can be seen in the style of the two pieces. The shift of realism shown in Marble sarcophagus fragment to Plaque with the Descent from the Cross shows the difference in values that each culture had in their art when telling a story.

Marble sarcophagus fragment is made from Luni, Pentelic, and marble, a favored material of the Romans. Some damage has occurred on the piece. Various parts of people have broken off, such as the head of the man on the far left, and the legs of almost everyone in the piece. The sarcophagus fragment is quite large. It is 96.8 centimeters in height, and 119.1 centimeters in length. This is because it originally formed the front panel of a large sarcophagus that depicted the story of Meleager, the Greek hero who slew the Calydonian boar.

Nine people are shown lifting his dying body, and they are all men.

The sarcophagus fragment shows the typical Roman style of idealism. Meleager is shown naked, with a very muscular body. A strong state of grief is shown on everyone’s faces and postures. In the middle of the piece, two men are crying into their robes. This also creates a compositional balance in this piece, with a repeated posture on each side of the man’s head.

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Balance was very important to the Romans, as they displayed a strong emphasis on aesthetics in their art.

The lack of background details makes it hard for anyone not familiar with the rest of the sarcophagi fragments to tell what is happening. On other Roman sarcophagi, this scene is accompanied with scenes of the actual hunt’, allowing the viewer to understand what story this

It seems here that the Roman artists were not concerned with the environment, as the people in the piece are seemingly standing in space. Instead, a big focus of the piece is displaying the skill of the artist, from the intricate details of the robes, to the realistic faces. One feature that may help the viewer at least understand that this is a warrior’s death, is the inclusion of the man on the right holding a helmet. Besides that, not many details are shown in this piece to make the story easy to understand to everyone. It is also hard to understand which warrior it would be, because Meleager looks almost identical to other sculptures of Roman men, due to the idealized form.

Plaque with the Descent from the Cross is composed of ivory figures that are mounted on whale bone. This gives it a much lighter appearance than marble, which can look dull. It is much smaller than the sarcophagus fragment. It is 23.2 centimeters in height, and 18.3 centimeters in width. In this plaque, only four people are lifting the dead body of Jesus Christ instead of nine. The addition of a woman in this plaque is different than the all men composition of the Marble sarcophagus fragment.

Unlike the Marble sarcophagus fragment, the grief of the people is not as apparent in the plaque, and a rather emotionless face is shown on everyone. The eyes are almost slits, and are very narrow. This plaque strays away from the realistic style that the Romans used in the sarcophagus, and instead shows the typical style of early Christian art.

The ideal proportions and muscular detail seen in the Marble sarcophagus fragment are lost in this plaque. The man on the bottom left of the plaque is in a very awkward posture, his legs bending oddly. His feet are placed in positions that suggests that the artist did not care about figure-ground relationships. The man on the lower right corner, taking off the straps on Jesus’ feet, is significantly smaller than the other people. He is scaled down to half of everyone’s size, and the effect is actually quite comical. This shows how the artist’s focus was on the narrative, rather than the aesthetic itself, an idea much different than the Romans.

Although the French were not as concerned with realism in this piece as in the Marble sarcophagus fragment, the attempt at storytelling is much more successful. There are more identifying details in the background, such as the cross, and there is a ground for the people to stand on, which shows they cared somewhat about the environment in which the people are in.

There is someone taking the straps off of Jesus’ feet, and two people pulling him off the cross. It is much easier to understand what is happening in this one panel by itself, unlike the Marble sarcophagus fragment, where multiple panels put together are needed to tell the story. The people also have identifying features, such as different types of hair, unlike the Roman sarcophagus, where everyone looks extremely similar due to idealized looks.

As time passed, the idealized ideas of Roman art shifted, and art became more about the story than aesthetics. The shift from the style of idealism demonstrated in the Marble sarcophagus fragment to the narrative, un-realistic sculptures of the Plaque with the Descent from the Cross shows that over time, easy to read storytelling became an important part of art.

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Marble Fragment and Descent from Cross Analysis. (2023, Mar 15). Retrieved from

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