Formal Analysis: Roman Sarcophagus There have been countless duels between two opposing sides in the history Roman artistry. This sculpture relief signifies the classic battle of good versus evil. Time and time again, benevolent heroes find themselves in a struggle to combat worthy yet malicious adversaries. The Roman sarcophagus, a two by five feet marble coffin, is certainly no exception. It represents another division to this timeless good-evil epic, its visual characteristics, emphasis on contrasts, and its extensive array of details give it an identity that is uniquely its own. It portrays a sense of legendary fantasy to the viewer, one pertaining to hostility, violence, and pure anger. The sculpture seems overly shallow due to the fact that the same mythical figures are repeated within the story setting, but with a little insight one can try and describe its true meaning. Every object, every expression, and everything that exists within this work are there for a reason.
The Sarcophagus is in relatively good condition even though some parts of it seem a little worn possibly due to the passage of time. Some of the worn areas include portions of the centaurs’ faces as well as specific areas of the background. Several corners appear to be chipped off and missing. Given its small size in terms of coffins suggests that this had been intended for a child. In addition, some portions of the sculpture contain tiny drainage holes, as this funeral item was later used as a fountain and also a flower box. The color of the sculpture represents a mottled diversity of color tones, from light bronze to skin color. Some of the colors seem out of place. The variation in color may be a result of the author emphasizing certain areas of the sculpture. Most notably, the artist selects to present the sculpture in three-dimensions, using this technique to accentuate and magnify the combatants and their physical attributes. Certain parts of these dimensions seem to stick right out at you, giving the viewer a good impression of the violence and hatred of war.
Interestingly, instead of four, only three sides of the Sarcophagus are filled with images. The long section illustrates two Greek heroes, presumably Herakles and Iolaos, battling evil centaurs. The two other sections show a centaur attacking a lioness and the other, the representation of peace in this work, two centaurs getting along. Herakles and Iolaos are highlighted by the artist’s careful attention to make them protrude the greatest, accentuating their impact and overall importance in this sculpture. Every powerful muscle in their bodies is portrayed and given detail in three dimensions. The three-dimensions not only bring these characters closer to reality but also heighten the heroic nature, masculinity, and belligerent attitude of the Greek heroes. Instead of using basic geometric shapes to create works of art, the sculptor chooses to increase the detail in the Sarcophagus by giving everything in the sculpture individual characteristics and traits. They are presented as being stressed as seen through the way the sculptor shows their muscles at maximum compression and urgency. Compared to the centaurs, the two heroes are slightly more defined and muscular. Every single muscle in Herakles’ abdomen is highlighted and represented.
The centaurs, literal half men, half beasts, are also emphasized as well, as the author focuses upon their powerful arms and legs and also presenting them in all different sorts of fighting postures. The centaurs all appear in chains, bound but still full of life and energy. Ironically, the centaurs are wielding table legs, objects normally associated with celebrations and harmony. Also, to further focus on the fighters in this scene, the sculptor inserts elements of the background, such as tress and fallen wine classes with three dimensions as well. However, while they may have some protrusion, because these objects represent merely the scenery, they do not stick out quite as much as the combatants do. Nevertheless, in all objects, there exists a faint trace of light and shadow that is consistent throughout. All of the elements of the work follow the laws of light and shadow. Even the more minor objects of the sculpture, such as the wine glasses, contain a shadow.
While the bulk of the sarcophagus is sculpted in overall detail, nowhere is this detail more clear than in the facial expressions of the individuals and the animals. The sculptor seems to attempt to stress the feelings of these creatures. The two Greeks along with the five evil centaurs in the main section are distressed and rushed because they are engaged in the battle. Their hair is waving all over the place and their mouths shaped in a downward way to denote anger. However, in the left section, the two centaurs have indifferent faces, looking as if they are off on a Sunday stroll. Their eyes seem relaxed, and their mouths closed. In the right section, the centaur is once again stressed, ready to throw what looks like a giant boulder onto the helpless lioness. The lioness’ face, by absolute contrast, is innocent and na´ve, possibly not even knowing that it is about to lose its life. So, with this attention to facial detail, one could easily infer the creatures’ actions by first glancing at their faces.
In short, the Sarcophagus, with its focus on detail, variation in color, and three dimensions, illustrates the ruthless violence and brutality of war between heroes and enemies. Human anatomy is also successfully explored, as the sculptor does not leave any muscle unexamined. The work may appear simple and uniform at first, but at closer inspection, the intentions of the sculptor are realized after discovering the complexity, attention, and variations of elements.