Gardner Museum Links Past and Present in Exhibition Featuring Prized Antiquity

Farnese Sarcophagus
Farnese Sarcophagus
(Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum)
  • Detail of Farnese Sarcophagus, about 225 AD.  Marble, 163.2 x 62.23 x 26.67 cm (64 1/4 x 24 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.)

    Detail of Farnese Sarcophagus, about 225 AD. Marble, 163.2 x 62.23 x 26.67 cm (64 1/4 x 24 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.)

    Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

  • Farnese Sarcophagus

    Farnese Sarcophagus

    Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum now explores the storied history and singular beauty of the Farnese Sarcophagus—as a centerpeice of a new exhibition—featuring its recent conservation, in-depth scholarship and a 3D artistic repsonse to the ancient artifact.

With its glorious images of cavorting satyrs and maenads, the 2,000-year-old Farnese Sarcophagus is one of the most important works of art in the Gardner Museum. The exhibition "Life, Death and Revelry," through Sept. 3, and accompanying catalog, trace the object's journey over two millennia from ancient Rome to contemporary Boston, exploring the many ways in which it has inspired generations of artists, collectors, conservators, and viewers since its rediscovery in the early modern era.

“That an ancient work of art can inspire artists working today is very much part of the Gardner’s DNA,” curator Christina Nielsen told WBUR. “It’s why Isabella collected these treasures.”

For the first time in over 100 years, the museum has moved the monumental, 7,500-pound work from its usual location, wedged between columns in the Palace courtyard, into Hostetter Gallery, so that all four sides of it are now visible. This exhibition presents new discoveries by a conservation team about its original colorful appearance and the restoration campaigns it has undergone in the last few centuries.

This ancient work is set in conversation with Maenads & Satyrs, a 3D video installation by 2012 Artists-in-Residence OpenEndedGroup. The soundtrack is composed by Kaija Saariaho and performed by cellist Yeesun Kim of the Borromeo Quartet.

Marc Downie and Paul Kaiser, collaborators in OpenEndedGroup, took thousands of photos of the piece's fine details at all times of day. The resulting feel of their installation is “all of those things that might be paint, or might be sculpture, or might be flesh are floating in three-dimension,” Downie said. “So it becomes a very uncanny and strange experience.”

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