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Garland sarcophagus

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek


A 3rd century C.E sarcophagus in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek has traces of original polychromy preserved to a considerable extent on both the front of the lid and on the coffin. A broad palette of colours are observed; yellow ochre, Egyptian blue, pink lake, purple, green, black, brown and two types of red, one brownish-red ochre the other a more intense red which is cinnabar. The faces of the figures and the masks have richly coloured eyes and lips. Especially the satyr reveals the use of blue for the iris. Garments show traces of decorative bands adding to the textural effect. In addition, animals and garlands evidence the intentional creation of light and shadow and plasticity by means of fine lines of red and yellow. Details such as blue-greenish contours resembling a tree on the lid and red tendrils in the space between the masks are painted directly onto the relief ground. Traces of original gilding are found though most of this is a secondary application. Beneath the original gilding variations in the colour of the bolus are observed; purple, yellow and brown.

Description of object

Three cupids wearing trousers, tunics and cloaks bear two garlands suspended between them. The ends of the garlands are fastened to the ribbon by means of broad ‘cuffs’. Vines, grapes, pine cones, pomegranates and flowers make up the garlands, over each of which two masks face one another. To the right the masks are Silenos and Pan, to the left a satyr and a maenad. Below the garlands, bunches of grapes lying on the ground are being eaten by rabbits and birds. The centre of the lid relief is taken up by two cupids holding a framed inscription. The cupids are naked except for their mantles. To the right, a shepherd tends his sheep. On the right two other cupids hold up a curtain behind the bust of a woman with a scroll in her hand. The head is left unfinished (a bozzo). Pupils and corners of the eyes are heavily drilled. In the hair, the surface has been worked with a chisel, but short, deep, drilled furrows are interspersed at random. The back has been worked with a pointed chisel while both narrow sides have been smoothed down with a claw chisel.

The chest is well preserved with only minor damage. The lid has been reassembled from several fragments, the lower right corner is restored. Part of the lid is missing. Traces of modern mortar are observed on most of the surface. The polychromy is preserved to a considerable extent. Gilding traces on hair, beards and animals. Most of the gilding is a later addition, but traces of original gilding can still be seen.

Choice of methods

Visual examination

  • Macroscopic
  • Microscopic in situ

Technical imaging

  • UV
  • VIL
  • Raking light


  • Cross section
  • Microscopy
  • XRF
  • UV-VIS

Visual examination

Traces of red-painted lines are visible to the naked eye along the contours of almost all figures and objects. In some places the red lines are seen on top of yellow lines.

Garlands: Traces of red and yellow are found in the incisions of the broad ‘cuffs’ which are fastened to the ribbons of the cupids. On the grapes traces of blue are observed while between the grapes both blue and pink are seen. The other fruits are painted using red and yellow. Shading along the edges has been done with delicate brushstrokes in red and yellow. Traces of blue, pink and yellow are found on the flowers while yellow and red appear in the centre of the flower. Pink is also found in the drilled holes of the flowers.

Cupids: Red, yellow, blue and pink are observed on the wings of the cupids. Red and yellow are used for eyebrows, eyelashes and in the iris. Traces of pink are found inside the mouth, nostrils and in the drilled holes of the eyes on several cupids. Pink is also found along the contours of the garments, on garments, in the folds of the garments and on the shoes of the left cupids. Traces of brown and red are found on the garments. Some of the fingers are actually carved while the remainder are executed in paint directly onto the background. All cupids on the lid wear yellow bracelets and anklets with a red line. On the centre cupid two green-bluish bands run down the tunic.

Masks: All masks have eyebrows and eyelashes painted red and yellow. There are also traces of red and yellow in the iris of the masks. In the iris of the satyr traces of blue are found. Minor traces of blue are also observed in the incisions of the horns. A transparent layer of purple is seen on the forehead of the satyr close to the gilded hair. A similar purple layer is found in the incisions of the leaves in the hair of Pan. Traces of pink are found inside the mouth, nostrils of all masks and in the ear of the maenad."

Unfinished portra":/objects/50/attachments/935it (a bozzo): On the left side of the head and on the hair red- brownish pigments are observed. Above the head a yellow disc-like shape appears. The clavus is yellow with decoration in red. On the tunic small traces of yellow are seen upon which fine red lines are painted. On the curtain behind the bust, traces of red, yellow blue and pink are observed.

Animals: On the rabbits, traces of red and yellow are found and small brushstrokes simulate the fur. Red and yellow are used for eyebrows and eyes. On the cock and the hen, red brushstrokes are seen on the legs. Traces of pink are found on the wattle of the cock and on the legs and feet of the peahen. A transparent layer of purple is seen on the face and on the thigh of the hen. On top of the purple layer traces of original gilding are observed. A similar purple layer is found on the thigh of the peahen and on the feathers under the gilding. On the peacock, traces of blue are observed in between the gilding and on the thigh. On both peacocks, red and yellow are found in the eyes. Blue is found on and between the grapes lying on the ground, while pink is the only colour between the grapes. The sheeps all have red eyebrows and on the centre sheep traces of eyelashes remain as well. Traces of pink are found inside the mouth, nostrils and in the drilled holes of the eyes on all sheep. On the hoof and rear thigh of the left sheep a transparent layer of purple is seen. On the neck and thighs of the sheep, delicate red and yellow brushstrokes imitate the skin . In the folds of the garments of the shepherd traces of pink are observed. The shepherd is wearing some kind of hose accentuated with delicate red and yellow lines.

Vegetation and the relief background: Traces of blue, pink, yellow and red are found in the background. On the lid to the left and on the trees yellow and sketchy reddish-brown brushstrokes imitate the bark. Traces of blue and yellow are found on the leaves. In the space between the masks faint traces of red tendrils appear.

Framed inscription: no traces of pigments are found in the inscription. However, the remains of a red line are seen on top of a yellow line in the incisions of the frame.

Gilding: Two types of gilding are found; one original and the other secondary. The secondary gilding was applied shortly after excavation. Traces of original gilding are found on hair, beards and animals. In a single case the original gilding is applied in thin strips on top of a brownish-red underdrawing to accentuate the structure of the hair and beard of the maenad mask. Different grounds are used for the gilding. What appears to be a yellow bolus is found in both hair and beard and likewise a translucent purple layer found in connection with the gilding on both animals and human figures.

Technical imaging

UV-FL: The overall impression of the UV-images is a greyish-brown appearance. In some areas a discreet white-bluish fluorescence is observed. This is seen on the right corner of the sarcophagus, under the belly of the left sheep on the lid, in the folds of the garments of the left cupid and between the maenad and the wing of the left cupid. The area showing the framed inscription on the lid appears more whitish than the surrounding areas. A strong pink-orange fluorescence is observed at several locations corresponding to areas where pink is found by visual examination. It is seen on both garments as defined bands, in folds of garments and, on the wings of the cupids, between grapes and on the flowers inside the mouth, in ears, nostrils and in the drilled holes of the eyes of several figures including the sheep. The pink- orange fluorescence suggests the use of an organic pink lake.

VIL: VIL-imaging reveals the extensive luminescence properties of Egyptian blue glowing bright white at several locations of the sarcophagus. The pigment appears, in the main, on the surface of the background as scattered particles but in some places it is more concentrated as observed on the background between the fruits. Blue lines are painted along the contours of the trees. On the background to the left on the lid the contours of a slender tree appear. On the head and body of the peacock a strong luminescence is seen. Along the contours of the tail feathers and feet of the cock lines of Egyptian blue appear as glowing bright white. A defined concentration of Egyptian blue is observed in the iris of several figures, most distinctly in the iris of the Pan and the right cupid. In the incisions and along the contours of the horns of the Pan the presence of Egyptian blue is seen as defined lines. The same is observed on the horns of the centre sheep on the lid and on the hooves of more or less all the sheep. In the face and hair of several of the figures the presence of Egyptian blue is observed as scattered particles. The presence of Egyptian blue is seen in almost all cases where pink is used for details such as inside the mouth, nostrils, in the ears, in the drilled holes of the eyes and folds of the garments. On the centre cupid the luminescence of two broad bands of Egyptian blue is seen running vertically down the garments. The luminescence continues down along the inner edge and in the folds of the hose. On the wings of the cupids, blue lines imitate feathers.

Other types of investigation

Cross-sectionSample IN2468-1.3: A cross-section of a sample taken from the green band reveals a single layer. The layer is extremely delicate and almost transparent but shows grey-greenish, blue and few yellow-orange particles.

UV-VIS: RED COLOURS Red contour line: Measuring point 5-7: The red colour outlining on most of the figures and garlands is a red iron oxide. Red in the eye of a cupid left of the inscription: Measuring point 45: The analysis of the colour is similar to red haematite.

YELLOW COLOURS Clavus on the portrait: Measuring point 16: Analysis is similar to yellow iron oxide. Yellow disc above bozzo: Measuring point 14: yellow iron oxide. Fruits: Measuring point 9 and 44: Result is similar to yellow iron oxide.

SEM/EDX: GREEN COLOURS: Sample IN2468-1.3, green band on tunic on central cupid: The result shows a high content of tin (Tn), lead (Pb) and copper (Cu). The last-named confirms the use of a copper-based blue, Egyptian blue.

RED COLOURS Sample IN 2468-1.7, red line on the trousers of the central cupid on the coffin: Large quantities of mercury (Hg), 72,25%, confirming the use of cinnabar. Most of the cinnabar has been transformed into a dark brown variant.

Sample IN2468-2.8, red colour on the unfinished portrait: The result shows the presence of silicon (Si), titanium (Ti), iron (Fe) and a small amount of manganese (Mn) suggesting red ochre presumably mixed with brown umber.

BOLUS AND GILDING: Sample 1.2, original gilding taken from the leg of the peahen. The sample contains gold (Au) and impurities such as zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu)

Sample 3.3, secondary gilding taken from neck of the left sheep. The result shows a gold (Au) content and impurities such as silver (Ag) and copper (Cu). The original gilding had a higher gold content compared to the secondary gilding. The yellow bolus is a yellow ochre while the translucent purple layer found in connection with the gilding has not yet been identified.""

XRF: Measuring points A-B, green band on tunic on central cupid: Elements detected: Cu, Ag, Sn, Pb. Measuring point C, secondary gilding on hair of mask: Elements detected: Fe, Cu, Mn, Hg, Pb, Au, Measuring points D-E, violet on birds: Elements detected: Hg, Fe, Ag Measuring point F, blue contours of the tree painted on the background: Elements detected:Fe, Cu, As, Ag, Pb


F. Poulsen (1951), Catalogue of Ancient Sculpture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, cat. No.788a.

J.S. Østergaard (1996), Garland sarcophagus. Imperial Rome, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Catalogue, 112, no. 48.

M.L. Sargent 2011, Recent Investigation of the Polychromy of a Metropolitan Roman Garland Sarcophagus, in J.S.Østergaard (ed.). Tracking Colour, The polychromy of Greek and Roman sculpture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Preliminary Report 3, Copenhagen, 14-34. Online: “”:

  • IN 2468
  • Sarcophagus
  • 300 C.E
  • Roman Imperial
  • White Marble
  • Acquired 1910 in Rome.
  • H. with. lid 104 cm (H. lid 34 cm) l. 180 cm x w. 56 cm

Selected photos

  • In2468_t_0
  • In2468_uv_t_0
  • In2468_vil_t_0
  • In2468_vil_d_0_satyr
  • In2468_vil_d_0_right_cupid
  • In2468_vil_d_0_sheep_and_trees
  • In2468_d_0_left_cupid
  • In2468_d_0_left_leg_of_central_cupid
  • In2468_d_0_fruits
  • In2468_d_0_hen_head
  • In2468_d_0_original_gilding
  • In2468_d_0_centre_cupid
  • In2468_d_0_sheep_and_trees
  • In2468_uv_d_0_left_cupid
  • In2468_d_0_woman_a_bozzo_2
  • In2468_d_0_maenad_eye
  • In2468_d_0_cupid_bracelet
  • In2468_d_0_shepherd_legs
  • In2468-1_3x20
  • In2468_d_0_right_cupid_wing
  • In2468_d_0_sheep
  • In2468_d_0_woman_a_bozzo_clavus
  • In2468_d_0_tree
  • In2468_t_map_0_xrf_uv-vis
  • In2468_map_t_0_samples
  • In2468_uv_d_0_sheep_and_shepherd
  • In2468_uv_d_0_cupids
  • In2468_uv_d_0_mask