Monday, November 17

When Lion's Eyes Are Smiling

Not long ago my colleagues and I were once more in the galleries, engaged in a discussion of an object in the collection. This particular object, a marble sarcophagus with a wine-making scene, is one I feel I'm intimately familiar with. I have two focus tours, one featuring a discussion of death and the afterlife, and one that specifically concentrates on sarcophagi, and this sarcophagus is included in both. So, I often find myself standing next to it, breaking down the scene and talking with visitors about what they're seeing. Still, there is always something more to think about or learn, and I was reminded of that when one of my fellow educators commented on the lion's eyes. Sure enough, I took a step closer, and this is what I saw:

Both pairs of lion eyes were smiling back at me! Could it be? Here before me was evidence that it was actually the Romans who invented that ubiquitous symbol of cheer, the Smiley Face! ...Just kidding. As many times as such archaeological leaps of logic are made, I think it's pretty obvious in this case that it was a graffiti artist much later than any ancient Roman that added smiles to the lions' eyes. I don't remember the curators or conservators ever bringing this feature of the sarcophagus up during our briefing on this object when it was first put on display earlier this year. I'm sure they're aware of it--they go over possible acquisitions with painstaking thoroughness--so I find it interesting the smiley faces weren't mentioned.

In any case, it's an entertaining new detail to add to my picture of what this object's modern life has been like since it was removed from it's archaeological context.

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