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16.03.2017

Ancient Roman Sarcophagus Restored After Life As Flowerpot

An ancient Roman coffin that was used as a flower pot for 200 years has been restored by conservators at Cliveden Conservation 

The 1,700 year old marble coffin had been used as an ornate flower pot and a water feature during its 200 years at Blenheim Palace. The true nature of the coffin was realised when antique experts noticed it on an unrelated visit to the palace. Thanks to brilliant work by Icon Organisational Members, Cliveden Conservation, the marble coffin has now been restored.

After identifying that the beautiful flowerpot was more than just a beautiful flowerpot, thorough investigations took place. These revealed that it was in fact the front of a white marble sarcophagus. The sarcophagus is covered with extremely fine bas-relief carvings depicting a drunken Dionysus leaning on a satyr and flanked by ‘party revellers’ including Hercules and Ariadne and two large lion heads.

The piece is actually in remarkable condition considering it has withstood seemingly aggressive environments​

Weighing in excess of 400kgs and measuring almost two metres in length, it was carefully taken to Cliveden Conservation’s Workshop for restoration. The project was overseen by conservator Nicholas Barnfield who said, “The piece is actually in remarkable condition considering it has withstood seemingly aggressive environments; particularly that of a fountain receptacle… Following an initial in-situ inspection we were able to unbolt it from the lead cistern to which it was attached and take it back to our workshops for full cleaning, repair and stabilisation.”

The coffin is no longer being used as a flower pot and now is on display inside Blenheim Palace. Kate Bellanger, House Manager at Blenheim Palace, said “Now it is in a consistent indoor climate away from the natural elements we are hoping it will remain in good condition and survive for many more centuries to come." 

Lead Image: Blenheim Palace

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