Is this Britain’s most expensive flower pot?
A marble trough used for growing tulips for 100 years has been identified as a Roman sarcophagus worth more than £300,000.
It was discovered at Blenheim Palace has been found after having tulips grown in it for on the grounds of Blenheim Palace where it had been used for the last 100 years as a flower pot.
An ancient Roman sarcophagus worth up to £300,000 has been discovered on the grounds of Blenheim Palace where it had been used for the last 100 years as a flower pot.
The historic marble coffin has been exposed to the elements for the last century and used as an oversized planter to grow tulips in in the rock garden of Sir Winston Churchill ’s birthplace in Oxfordshire.
And for 100 years before that the 1,800 year old sarcophagus was used as a makeshift water feature by the 5th Duke of Marlborough who obtained it in the 19th century.
Palace officials were prompted to take a closer look at the 6ft 6ins long object after an antiques expert spotted its ornate carvings while making an unrelated visit.
The palace had conservators remove the front marble section, which is the original part, and carry out an extensive investigation.
They identified the basin as a white marble sarcophagus depicting Dionysian revelry dating back to 300AD.
Its splendid bas-relief carvings depict a drunken Dionysus, the god of wine, leaning on an equally inebriated woodland god known as ‘satyr’.
The pair are flanked by party revelers including Hercules and Ariadne as well as two large lion heads. The marble section weighs nearly 900lbs.
The sarcophagus has been placed on public display in an underground room in Blenheim Palace.
In 2013 auctioneer Guy Schwinge sold a similar sarcophagus for £100,000 after finding it being used as a plant trough, said this example could be worth three times that.
Mr Schwinge, of Duke’s Auctioneers of Dorchester, Dorset, said: “The quality of this sarcophagus panel suggests it was made in Rome for a high status member of the patrician elite.
“The overall form and Dionysian carving suggest a date late in the late 2nd century and the lion’s masks are a clear expression of Roman Imperial power.
“A comparable panel from the collection of John Pierpont Morgan, datable to around 180 AD, came up for auction in New York a few years ago.
“At auction a panel of this sophistication could easily realise £300,000 or more with the Blenheim Palace provenance.”
Kate Ballenger, house manager at the palace, said: “We were alerted to the sarcophagus’ importance by an antiques expert who was visiting the estate.
“We always thought it was a beautiful sculpture but we were not aware of the fact is was a Roman sarcophagus dating back to 300AD.
“First an elaborate water feature and then a planter for flowers, it has now been conserved and relocated inside the palace.
“We are delighted to have it back and the restoration work is very impressive.
“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.”
Nicholas Banfield, of Cliveden Conservation of Taplow, Berks who has overseen the restoration, 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 marble coffin was originally obtained by the 5th Duke of Marlborough, who was famous for his extravagant collection of antiquities, around 200 years ago.
The nobleman’s illustrious name did not, however, save him from his mounting debts and his estates were seized and his collections sold.
This particular piece was one of a few he maintained ownership of after retiring to Blenheim Palace.
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