Illustrated Architecture Dictionary ................. Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary

Strigil sarcophagus motif
(strij uhl)

A strigil sarcophagus is a sarcophagus carved with S-shaped parallel grooves reminiscent of the shape of many strigils.

Strigil: an instrument with a curved blade, used especially by the ancient Greeks and Romans for scraping the skin at the bath and in the gymnasium.

Roman Sarcophagi
Excerpts from the
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (Online March 2013)

The most common shape for Roman sarcophagi is a low rectangular box and a flat lid. The kline lid, with full-length sculptural portraits of the deceased reclining as if at a banquet, was inspired by earlier Etruscan funerary monuments.

The lenos, a tub-shaped sarcophagus resembling a trough for pressing grapes, was another late second-century development, and often features two projecting lion's head spouts on the front.

A large number are carved with garlands of fruit and leaves, evoking the actual garlands frequently used to decorate tombs and altars. Narrative scenes from Greek mythology were also popular, reflecting the upper-class Roman taste for Greek culture and literature.

Other common decorative themes include battle and hunting scenes, weddings and other biographical episodes from the life of the deceased, portrait busts  and abstract designs such as strigils.
In this thesis, I argue that medieval viewers understood the strigil motif as a fountain of living water, a sign of rebirth in both Biblical verses and medieval legends.

The strigil, a wavy line like a shallow ‘S’, is repeated anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen times on the front panels of sarcophagi.

Strigilated sarcophagi first appear in classical Greece and are popular in the Roman Empire beginning around the second century CE and are ubiquitous there until the sixth century.

At this point, strigilated sarcophagi disappear from the archaeological record. Around the end of the ninth century, when the last of the sustained conflicts with the Saracens in southern France ended, late antique sarcophagi with strigils were moved into reconstructed crypts and church porches in Arles, Marseille and Avignon.

New sarcophagi were also carved using the strigil motif. On sarcophagi, the ‘S’ of the strigil is reflected and repeated the same number of times on the opposite half, so that the two sets of nested shapes surround a space at the center of the front of the sarcophagus.


Photos and their arrangement 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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