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The Iconography of the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

The Iconography of the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus: Neofitus Iit Ad Deum

Elizabeth Struthers Malbon
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 302
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    The Iconography of the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus
    Book Description:

    Carved for a Roman city prefect who was a newly baptized Christian at his death, the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus is not only a magnificent example of "the fine style" of mid-fourth-century sculpture but also a treasury of early Christian iconography clearly indicating the Christianization of Rome--and the Romanization of Christianity. Whereas most previous scholarship has focused on the style of the sarcophagus, Elizabeth Struthers Malbon explores the perplexing elements of its iconography in their fourth-century context. In so doing she reveals the distinction between "pagan" and Christian images to be less rigid than sometimes thought.

    Against the background of earlier and contemporary art and religious literature, Malbon explicates the relationship of the facade's two levels of scenes depicting stories from the Old and New Testaments, the connection between the scenes on the facade with those on the lid and ends of the sarcophagus, and the integration of pagan elements within a Christian work. What emerges is a carefully constructed iconographic program shedding light on the development of early Christian art within late antique culture.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6130-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. List of Figures
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. List of Tables and Diagrams
    (pp. xxi-2)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-21)

    SO READS the inscription on the upper edge of the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (see fig. 1). The inscription identifies the deceased by civic class and responsibility and by Christian status and hope, as well as serving to date the sarcophagus to 359.² Not much is known about Junius Bassus. He was born in June 317. His father, also named Junius (Iunius) Bassus, served as praetorian prefect in 318–331, became a consul in 331, built a basilica on the Esquiline, and may have been a Christian.³ Junius Bassus the son—Junius being thenomenorgentilename (the name...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Interpretations
    (pp. 22-38)

    THE PRESENT focus on compositional cues and contemporary conventions may be understood, in part, as a response to developments in art historical research.¹ The questions that have been asked and the interpretations that have been proposed to date—concerning early Christian art generally and the Junius Bassus sarcophagus specifically—both allow and urge me to ask the questions and offer the interpretations that I do. Thus it may be useful to set the present study—even in a brief, schematic way—in the larger context of art historical research of the early Christian period in general and of the Bassus...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Intercolumniations
    (pp. 39-71)

    THE SARCOPHAGUS of Junius Bassus is perhaps most noted for its style rather than its iconography, although the two are intricately connected. The style of its facade, and especially of the ten intercolumnar scenes, has generally been hailed as an exemplification of the revival, in the second half of the fourth century, of Hellenistic traditions over the local Roman style,¹ as a “perfect example of what the Roman archaeologists now [in 1947] describe aslo stile bello,”² Fine Style.³ This new style has been said to supply “a visual expression for the new order and new balance of the Christian...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Spandrels
    (pp. 72-90)

    PERHAPS because the intercolumnar scenes are so imposing in their presentation and intriguing in their interrelations, whereas the spandrel scenes are small, badly damaged, and quite curious in their depiction of persons as lambs, the spandrel scenes of the Junius Bassus sarcophagus have not received a great deal of attention from art historians. They are discussed, however, in the two monographs on the sarcophagus. Both Anton de Waal and Friedrich Gerke view the spandrel scenes as arranged in symmetrical pairs on the basis of iconographic content: a and f, b and e, c and d—that is, ( ( (...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Ends
    (pp. 91-103)

    THE FACT that the spandrel scenes depict biblical events as enacted symbolically by lambs suggests a movement from “historical” to symbolic representation. This movement culminates in the scenes of putti¹ on the end panels of the sarcophagus (figs. 29 & 31). The ends of the Junius Bassus sarcophagus have attracted little commentary from art historians. George M. A. Hanfmann, however, in examining season sarcophagi, takes brief notice of the end scenes of the Bassus sarcophagus in that context.² The Bassus sarcophagus is not, of course, a season sarcophagus proper, but one of three that Hanfmann points out as having very elaborate...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Lid
    (pp. 104-119)

    MORE OF the lid of the Junius Bassus sarcophagus is missing than is present—and even what is extant is in one large and four smaller fragments (figs, 1, 37, 40). The box of the sarcophagus has experienced some damage in its long life—notably the loss of the Daniel figure and substantial damage to the spandrel scenes, but also the loss of the heads of Pilate’s servant and of Job and the leg of the donkey—but the lid barely survived into the modern era at all. And until the four smaller fragments were discovered in 1942 and 1979,...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Compositional and Ornamental Elements
    (pp. 120-126)

    EVEN ELEMENTS of the composition and ornamental structure of the Junius Bassus sarcophagus seem to confirm significant correspondences between and among scenes and to lead the viewer beyond a separate understanding of the upper and lower registers, spandrels, ends, and lid to a unified vision of the whole. Most importantly, the double-register columnar form allows clear linkages to be made between scenes that are symmetrically placed within one register and/or between scenes that are lined up vertically, thus unifying the work and undergirding iconographic connections.

    The central scenes of the sarcophagus facade, upper and lower, are strongly set apart from...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Integration
    (pp. 127-154)

    WE BEGAN this study by focusing on the compositional cues of the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus and the contemporary conventions behind it, that is, by looking carefully at the work itself and looking around at other works of its time (chapter 1). We listened to what several art historians have had to say about the iconographical program of the sarcophagus (chapter 2). We have argued that an overall interpretation of its iconographical significance that contradicts either the cues of its composition or the constraints of its context (as suggested by both images and texts) cannot be finally convincing. By examining...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 155-230)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-244)
  17. Indexes
    (pp. 245-256)
  18. Plates
    (pp. None)