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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Fragment of a Sarcophagus with a Winged Eros
Work Type
3rd century CE
Roman Imperial period, Late
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

49.5 cm h x 17 cm w x 15.5 cm d
(19 1/2 in. h x 6 11/16 in. w x 6 1/8 in. d )


Recorded Ownership History
Dr. Harris Kennedy, Milton, MA (by 1932), gift; to the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum, 1932.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr. Harris Kennedy, Class of 1894
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990

Fragment of a Sarcophagus with a Winged Eros

The fragment is from the left front with part of the left short side remaining. The fragment is broken down the left side of the Eros. His right arm is broken off just above the elbow. The right leg from above the knee is missing, and the left leg is almost obliterated.

The winged Eros moves to the right, tossing his head backward and laughing. His arms were probably stretched out in front of him. His hair is long and curly, and is gathered in a knot at the top and tied. The drill has been used liberally in the pupils of the eyes, hair, mouth, nostrils, and wing. The head of Eros is based on a type created about 200 B.C. and connected both with the statue of the child squeezing a goose, identified with Boethus, and with the groups of Eros and Psyche, the latter a century later (Ars Antiqua A.G., Auktion 7, Lucerne, 2 May, 1959, p. 15, no. 34, pl. 21).

At the left of the Eros, where the corner turned to start the left end of the sarcophagus, an animal's paw appears in low relief, at the bottom. This sphinx or lion or griffin paw rests on rocky ground, and there are traces of the creature's head above the paw.

This appears to be a section of a sarcophagus showing Erotes with the arms of Ares rather than a garland sarcophagus, or one with imago clipeata, with Erotes supporting the fillets of the festoons or the setting for the shield. Although near the left front corner of the sarcophagus, the pose of Eros is that of supporting an imago clipeata (a portrait-bust in or on a shield) or an inscribed plate (Hanfmann, 1951, II, p. viii, no. 29 in the illustrations, and fig. 32, no. 530, in Pisa).

There are a number of sarcophagi with Erotes or children engaged in athletic pursuits which show their subjects in similar poses (Vermeule, C., Cahn, Hadley, 1977, pp. 49-50, no. 68). And on a sarcophagus in the Musée du Louvre, Erotes stand also frontally, turned slightly inward, and hold the ends of fillets that extend toward two larger, flying Erotes who support a Gorgon shield in the center. The positions of the hands of these smaller Erotes could postulate a similar role for the fragment in the Harvard Museums (Reinach, 1897-1930, I, p. 80, nol. 2). On a flying Erotes with imago clipeata sarcophagus from ancient Osca (modern Huesca) in Spain, the smaller Eros on the left front is in a pose similar to that of the Harvard fragment, and he is playing the double flutes (Garcia y Bellido, 1949, pp. 280-283, no. 277, pl. 232).

Sarcophagi showing Erotes carrying the arms and armor of Ares offer the best suggestions for the origins of this fragment. The figure on the left front is usually extending his arm to grasp a spear, often held by the Eros just beyond him. There are examples in the Uffizi and the British Museum (Reinach, 1909-1912, III, p. 26, no. 5; II, p. 471, no. I, holding the spear across his chest).

Finally, there is at least one sarcophagus in which an Eros is precisely in this pose can support an imago clipeata on the left front end. It is, or was, in the Mattei collection, and three imagines are shown flanked by four Erotes (Reinach, 1909-1912, III, p. 297, no. I).

Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer

Publication History

  • Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 139, no. 129

Verification Level

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