Sample Art Essays on Sarcophagus Visual Analysis


Formal Analysis

The museum object analyzed is a sarcophagus with a scene from the Lives of St. Peter and Christ in the 1st Century A.D. This sarcophagus was carved from marble. The sculpture depicts various stories of the lives of Jesus and his disciple, Peter.  The lower section seems disjointed because the upper part was restored after being destroyed during excavation. In the middle part of this piece, there is a man mounted on a donkey that probably depicts Jesus and is discolored as compared to the rest of the marble. The setting of the sculpture focuses on a cityscape. The images on this piece represent a city street environment. For instance, at the far-right corner, there is a building structure, which accentuates the urban setting that the creatures of this sarcophagus intended. Additionally, this style gives a naturalistic appeal in the open air and on a busy street. The men in the picture are chatting in groups, but the stories are diffused, and no person is the center of attraction. The sculpture size is relatively large, approximately an eighth the size of an average adult male.


Museum Object Visual Analysis

Overall Composition

A landscape orientation has been used on this sarcophagus. The group of figures in the sculpture seems active; therefore, it lacks a single focal point. The artist created a sense of depth by arranging the figures symmetrically. Moreover, the overlapping figures create the illusion of space. Some characters appear in the background faintly, to create an illusion of space at the location. Also, foreground interest is emphasized in this sculpture. This is achieved by including fewer details in the background while ensuring that the majority of the figures in the sculpture are very realistic and detailed.


This sarcophagus has figures that express jovial facial expressions. They seem to be chatting in groups, and most are standing freely. The clothing used by the artist in the pictures depicts the trends that were common during the Roman Empire era. For instance, men clad in robes were a familiar scene during the Roman rule and more so, in the Middle East region. From the interactions on the piece, several activities are taking place. For example, two men are restraining a man standing behind a donkey. At the far-left, some persons appear to be in a worship posture, with one of them on his knees. Additionally, two men are talking to Jesus with one them holding a scared child. Details are highlighted more on the foreground than the middle ground and background.

This sarcophagus sculpture only has the natural color of marble hence no artificial colors. The natural color of the material is important in that it brings out all the figures clearly and are therefore easily visible. Since no artificial color has been used, there is no clear distinction in the apparels of the charactersto symbolize social status. The artist has not used light effects. However, high relief has been used whereby the artist has deeply curved the sculptures thus making the figures appear more visible. The absence of light torches signifies a daytime occurrence with people conversing freely. Concerning movement, the figures are static. The arrangement of the characters on this museum piece is linear. The activities that are seen to take place and the position and postures of some of the figures evoke the bible accounts of Jesus and Peter.





The Met. (2017). Sarcophagus with Scenes from the Lives of Saint Peter and Christ | Roman | The Met. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e., The Met Museum. Retrieved 17 September 2017, from