Marsyas Sarcophagus “Alberici”

Roman sarcophagus
End of 2nd century AD

Height 59 cm

Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.



The Marsyas Sarcophagus “Alberici” was purchased for the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung antiquities collection on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the museum’s founding. Measuring some two metres in length, the marble sarcophagus—made in a Roman workshop at the end of the second century AD—is one of the most well-known ancient sarcophagi of Roman antiquity. It recounts the myth of the goddess Athena, who invents the double flute but casts it away when she realizes that playing it distorts her face. The satyr Marsyas discovers the instrument and learns to play it better than Apollo himself—and in consequence becomes a victim of divine jealousy. Apollo takes revenge by having Marsyas bound to a tree and skinned alive. In richly figurative scenes, the mannerist style that followed the so-called “late Antonian stylistic change” lends masterful expression to the drama of the events. The sarcophagus is considered one of the finest examples of a phase in Roman art distinguished by its high artistic quality and inventiveness.

The stone coffin was already known in the early Renaissance. Anonymus Coburgensis made a drawing of it in around 1550 (fol. 10 of the Codex Coburgensis now in the Veste Coburg). According to the “Census of Antique Works of Art and Architecture Known to the Renaissance” it was in the Roman church of SS Cosma e Damiano for a brief period in the sixteenth century, and later in the Palazzo Altobelli-Zinsler before finally making its way into a private English collection (Hever Castle, Kent) in 1904 through the agency of the dealer A. Alberici. In 1983 Sotheby’s in London put the holdings of the Hever Castle collection up for auction. After that, the Marsyas Sarcophagus was in private holdings until the Städelscher Museums-Verein purchased it with funds from the Stiftung Kober and help from the Kulturstiftung der Länder and the city of Frankfurt.