Sarcophagus of Stilicone (385 AD): Nativity
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Sarcophagus of Stilicone (385 AD): Nativity

The Nativity: Jesus in swaddling clothes in the manger. Detail of the Sarcophagus of Stilicone (385 AD) in the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan, Italy. A magnificent work of Early Christian art, this sarcophagus is one of the few surviving elements from St. Ambrose's original basilica. It was carved during Ambrose's lifetime and its themes may have been suggested by the bishop himself. It still stands in its original location - the ambo was built around it. The tomb was probably commissioned by a high military official, who appears with his wife on the north side of the sarcophagus and again in a roundel on the lid. Their identities remain unknown; the name of the sarcophagus dates from the 18th century and is based on an erroneous tradition that it was made for Stilicone, a general who died in 408 in the service of Emperor Honorius. The sculptures on the sarcophagus are of exceptional quality, indicating they were carved by a Roman artist.