Front of Sarcophagus with Dionysus and Ariadne

Arte romana

Second quarter of second century AD

Marble, 71.5 x 58cm

Inv. 8074, 8076

The Galleria Estense, Modena

This relief, divided into two parts, depicts Dionysus and Ariadne triumphant on a four-wheeled chariot. On one side of the couple there is a Satyr carrying a torch and an Eros with a standard on the other, beneath whose feet parts of a Centaur can be detected. In the other section of the relief a Satyr plays a double flute whilst a Maenad dances opposite him, waving a tambourine with her left hand and holding a thyrsus in her right. 

The relief is enclosed by two borders, the higher of which bears an inscription. 

This work was part of a collection of antiquities owned by a Marquis (possibly Sigismondo IV) from the San Martino branch of the Este family. Ludovico Antonio Muratori recorded that it was kept in the Campogalliano residence and believed it to be part of the Este Dukes’ collection. 

Given the Roman provenance of the relief, some scholars believe that it was part of Cardinal Rodolfo Pio da Carpi’s collections of antiquities (kept in the Campo Marzioresidence and in the villa of Campocavallo and in its gardens the Quirinale Hill), which were in part acquired by Duke Alfonso II d’Este. Of particular interest is an entry in the 1584 inventory of the Duke’s collections that describes: “part of a sarcophagus showing the tale of Ariadne with many whole figures”.