RI museums consider relocating 2nd century sarcophagus





PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Gina Borromeo is well-versed in ancient artifacts, but one recent question from a museum curator caught her off-guard: "Do you want a sarcophagus?"

And not just any sarcophagus. This was a white coffin with marble dating as far back as the 2nd century that depicted followers of the Greek wine god Dionysus. It was brought back from Europe by a wealthy Rhode Island couple who donated it to the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium in 1904. For years, the coffin sat unceremoniously in the lobby of the building at Roger Williams Park.

Now the city-operated museum was suddenly willing to part with it after more than a century, deciding its mission was shifting more and more toward natural history and away from art.

For Borromeo, the ancient art curator for the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, the chance to acquire the piece — for free — was something she couldn't pass up.

"It was elation," Borromeo said of her reaction.

But the deal hit a snag last Wednesday, the day the piece was to be transferred between museums, when Providence officials postponed the move so they could "further review" the agreement. City officials did not return repeated messages for comment. Borromeo said Friday she wasn't sure what the city's concern was.

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