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CE/DA01680. This sarcophagus was produced in the workshop of the artist known as ‘the dogmatic’ because his scenes refer to the dogmas pronounced at the Nicene Council (325). The sarcophagus of Martos consists of a box and a lid, and it is only carved on one side. The lid, of which only one-third is preserved, presents a central vignette supported by two winged genies, and two lateral scenes from the Old Testament: to the right Jonah and to the left the Jews and the fiery furnace of Babylon (Recio 1969; Sotomayor 1975). The interpretation of the lid is made more difficult because of its bad state of preservation. The front of the box is divided into seven spaces separated by columns. Each space represents a scene from the New Testament. The spandrels at both ends are decorated with pagan symbols: Triton, godly messenger from the deep, who controls the sea and the waves by blowing into a seashell. In the earliest descriptions of the sarcophagus, this character was labelled as an angel. Triton appears on several sarcophagi found in Baetica, and also on other sarcophagi found elsewhere: for example, one in Leiden (Holland); three, with columns, in Arles (France); one in Nimes (France); and one in Geneva (Switzerland) (García 2012). The rest of the spandrels are decorated with laurel leaves, another element that was used to decorate sarcophagi before the arrival of Christianity. As pointed out by Sotomayor (1973), these were originally intended to divinise the deceased; for Christians, the laurel began to represent the crown of victory.
Six of the scenes represent Jesus’s miracles from the New Testament; the seventh depicts Peter’s denials. The miracles, from left to right, are as follows:

· the raising of the son of the widow of Nain,
· the curing of the blind man,
· the curing of the woman with haemorrhage,
· the denial of St Peter or the scene of the cockerel,
· the curing of the crippled man,
· the miracle of the five loaves and two fish,
· the miracle of the wedding at Cana.

In these scenes, Jesus is represented as curly haired and beardless –an iconographic transition between the so-called ‘station type’ and the ‘page type’, in which the curls are made to look messy. In all scenes, Jesus is accompanied by an apostle (Sotomayor 1975).

The sarcophagus was discovered in 1896 during the excavation of a water cistern in the courtyard of an olive-oil mill in Martos. The landlady, the person responsible for the preservation of the sarcophagus, was Doña Josefa Castilla Escobedo, although the literature generally only mentions her husband, Francisco Muñoz Valenzuela. Near the sepulchre, according to the description provided at the time, were “some minor architectural remains” and an altar with an inscription dedicated «to Junió 23 years old and incomplete headstone with Latin inscription »’. The sarcophagus also contained a skeleton which, according to the report filed many years later, in 1923, “must have been very tall, and several ceramic vases, approximately 15 cm in diameter at the base and 10 cm tall, with a narrow neck and well-developed rims, as the attached drawing indicates”.

Details

  • Title: Palaeo-Christian sarcophagus
  • Date Created: 330-337 A.D.
  • Location: El Llanete, Molino del Rey, Martos (Jaén)
  • Physical Dimensions: Box: Height=0.61 m; Length 2.14 m; Width=0.66 m Lid: Height=0.1 m; Length 2.14 m; Width=0.66 m
  • Medium: Fine-grained white marble with bluish veining. Sotomayor (1973) suggests that this marble comes from the Proconnesus (Island of Marmara).

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