Sarcophagus Showing Apollo and the Muses (220-230 A.D.)
Coming from the Giardino del Lago, the two slabs were restored by Antonio D’Este early in 1827. They were re- moved from the east facade of the villa when various antiquities were taken to France during the Napoleonic occupation; they remained in the Villa because the transport of the heavy blocks did not appear to be either opportune or urgent since the Sarcophagus showing Muses from the Albani Collection reached Paris at the end of 1798. The short sides were sent there both because of their smaller dimensions and their contents, which gave symbolic character to the whole: on one end was a closed door, the symbol of Hades; on the other, Homer between the personifications of the Iliad and the Odyssey. It was a sarcophagus of Asiatic provenance with a design in- spired by the vertical division of the permanent stage sets and a proscenium in Roman theatres. The two long sides are divided by six twisted colonnettes with Corinthian capitals, between which three niches alternate with flat surfaces. Each cavity is crowned with a shellshaped half-dome; the two lateral ones are surmounted by segmental arches, the central one with a pediment. A cor- nice resting on the capitals completes the flat surfaces with a cyma reversa, ovoli and dentils. Although frequent in Anatolian production, the sequence arch—entablature—pediment—entabla- ture—arch is not found as the frame for other decorative complexes featuring Muses, which makes this work particularly interesting as the first example of what was to become a popular style. In the end wall of the room is embedded the rear face of the sarcophagus; the figures are arranged on different levels, their varying sizes creating an illusion of depth. From the left: Euterpe with the lyre (reconstructed, but attested to by the baldric that supported the instrument) introducing the convivial poetry; Erato with the cithara for the ceremonial songs; Clio with a diptych on which to write history; Urania pointing out the celestial globe to the astronomers; Poly- hymnia intent on dreaming of lyric poetry. On the front, embedded in the en- trance wall of the room, the figures between the columns are all at the same level. In the centre is Apollo Musagetes playing the cithara; on his right is Terpsichore with a double flute supervising the dancing; at the end is Calliope, with a scroll of epic poetry. On the god’s left is Thalia, the muse of comedy, with the mask of Silenus and a shepherd’s crook; then Melopomene, who had a club in her lowered right hand (the sword was added by the restorer) and a tragic mask.