Conservation of the sarcophagus fragment took place in 2016. in two fazes. First faze included active conservation of the object while the second faze included the construction of the frame used to exhibit it on the wall. Conservation was done by Ana Vrdoljak, Conservator NKF-N (company: Art Conservation) in collaboration with Joanna Henck, Sculpturkonservator NKF-N.
General information of the fragment
Date: about 200 A.D.
Dimensions: cca 125 cm x 32 cm x 10,5 cm
Sarcophagus fragment depicts a so-called Dionysian scene i.e. it is linked to vine-god Dionysus (referred by Romans as Bacchus). All the way on the left we see a satyr (male natural being) that supports Dionysus with his left arm limply outstretched holding a drinking-horn. Underneath his arm, we can see god Pan with his right goat leg viewed from a side towards Dionysus. Next, moving to the center, are two characters about to reveal a woman with the naked torso. We see only the upper part of her. She is halfway lying with the one arm laid across her head. This position seems fairly uncomfortable, but in antique art, it indicates that a person is asleep. In Hesiod (Greek poet) and most other accounts, Theseus abandoned Ariadne sleeping on Naxos, and Dionysus rediscovered and wedded her. On a sarcophagus, this meeting symbolizes the union between God and man. To the right of Ariadne scene is a red Maenad holding a tambourine. Next scene depicts an old woman in front of an altar. She is about to sacrifice to a god, which is shown in the form of a statue on a high pedestal. The statue portrays Dionysus as a mature man with a long beard, while the Dionysus who finds Ariadne, is young and beardless. Dionysus is known to be shown as both young and mature, and on this sarcophagus fragment, we can see both types. Continuing to the right there is a curved strip which could indicate to this being a fragment of a large sized sarcophagus. Under the curved strip, there is a female figure viewed from behind, probably also a Maenad. She is flanked by a dancing satyr and an animal (probably deer) that jumps up towards her.
Condition before conservation
Sarcophagus fragment was embedded in plaster with a wooden frame around it. The frame was mounted on the wall and supported by a cement bench on the bottom. The frame was old and damaged but structurally stable. Plaster surrounding the marble started to deteriorate and showed discoloration which disturbed the overall visual representation. From the start, it was obvious that the marble is in tree pieces. Later on, dismounting those pieces showed the way they were assembled which confirmed that the sarcophagus was restored at least one time in the past. Patches filling in the gaps between the pieces discolorated and deteriorated leaving the gaps partially open. Marble itself was stained with residues of dirt.
Wooden frame and plaster surrounding the marble were entirely removed. The back side of the marble was covered with a thin layer of plaster with visible rust stains. Its removal revealed a coroded iron bar screwed to the marble at six points. Once the iron bar was removed, it was possible to mechanically remove all of the plaster residues. Pieces were put together by drilling the holes on their connecting sides. Holes were filled with plaster and sides were kept together with four iron pins. Pins were removed and were showing signs of corrosion. Each marble piece was cleaned with clay, brushes, steamer and scalpel.
Removal of the iron from the marble was essential due to the fact that iron while rusting expands its volume and it can easily cause cracking of the marble, while rust penetrates the surface and leaves stains. Therefore the new metal pieces were made out of stainless steel which does not corrode over time.
New metal pieces were placed inside the holes and the pieces were pushed together. Once dried, in the preexisting holes on the back of the marble, the new wooden plugs were inserted. New stainless steel plank was screwed on and all the gaps on all the sides of marble were filled with toned mortar. Once dried, fillings on the front and the sides were retouched with watercolor paint. The entire surface of the marble was consolidated.
A custom made frame was produced for the mounting. The frame was made from stainless steel and it consists out of the large piece that goes all around the relief and is mounted on the wall with six 8 mm screws. In addition to it, there are seven smaller clamps securing the relief from bottom and top. The frame was painted with an off-white auto-lack in order to minimize its visibility and overall influence on the aesthetic of the sarcophagus fragment. Bottom of the frame and the clamps were separated from the direct contact with marble using silicone. Silicone was molded in several layers in order to fit perfectly with the shape of the marble and the frame.