Etruscan Sarcophagus

Etruscan Sarcophagus

3D Image

Etruscan sarcophagus, 250-10 BCE, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (Copenhagen, Denmark). Made with Memento Beta (now ReMake) from AutoDesk.

A well-preserved head shows the woman’s white skin and reddish hair. Her coiffure was usually gathered in a bun at the nape or above her forehead. Etruscan women often wear earrings, sometimes armbands and necklaces, which were painted yellow to represent gold.

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7.4: Sarcophagus of the Spouses

One of the distinguishing features of Etruscan society, and one that caused much shock and horror to their Greek neighbors, was the relative freedom enjoyed by Etruscan women. Unlike women in ancient Greece or Rome, upper class Etruscan women actively participated in public life&mdashattending banquets, riding in carriages and being spectators at (and participants in) public events. Reflections of such freedoms are found throughout Etruscan art images of women engaged in these activities appear frequently in painting and in sculpture.

Figure (PageIndex<1>). Sarcophagus of the Spouses, Etruscan, c. 520&ndash510 BCE, painted terracotta (Musée du Louvre) Figure (PageIndex<2>). The Etruscan Woman

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses was found in Cerverteri, a town in Italy north of Rome, which is the site of a large Etruscan necropolis (or cemetery), with hundreds of tombs. The sarcophagus vividly evokes both the social visibility of Etruscan women and a type of marital intimacy rarely seen in Greek art from this period.

A Funerary Banquet?

In the sarcophagus (and another largely identical example at the Villa Giulia in Rome), the two figures recline as equals as they participate in a banquet, possibly a funerary banquet for the dead. In contemporary Greece, the only women attending public banquets, or symposia, were courtesans, not wives! The affectionate gestures and tenderness between the Etruscan man and woman convey a strikingly different attitude about the status of women and their relative equality with their husbands.


Etruscan tombs in the necropolis of Cerveteri, northern Lazio, in the province of Rome.

The Etruscans -predecessors of the modern Tuscans- did not belong to any of the old known Italian races, but it is certain that came to the Italian peninsula by sea through the Tyrrhenian Sea (part of the Mediterranean Sea off the western coast of Italy) in the ninth century BCE. After traveling many places they settled in the coast of modern Tuscany to which later, through conquests, added Umbria. Subsequently, they spread southward across much of Lazio occupying the entire western of this part of Italy from the Arno to the Tiber. Around 550 BCE they reached Campania and then founded colonies by the Northeast and East from Milan to Bologna. Then, at this point, was when its incipient empire began to crumble. Thus in the early fourth century BCE the Etruscans were only occupying the region they first conquered, but this territory would also fall into the hands of Romans during the course of the next two centuries: one by one the great Etruscan cities (Caere, Tarquinia, Vulci) were conquered by Rome. Finally, during the last century of the Republic (year 82 BCE), Rome dominated the Etruscan people who quickly adopted Roman government and customs.

Etruria was always a maritime civilization intensely devoted to sea trade, especially with the East, which explains the cultural link with Greece during the entire course of its history. The Etruscan civilization was always influenced by the Ionian Greek culture. This was manifested in its typical way of burial with sarcophagi, though in its early stages they also used funerary urns.

Floor plan of the Volunni tomb in Perugia.

The Etruscan tombs were of various types although those carved into the rock were the dominant type. Other tombs were shaped as mounds on a high circular base. This was a type of tomb that will perpetuate till roman times. The Etruscan tombs were arranged as a burial chamber sometimes radially distributed in several chambers, which could be accessed through a hall or gallery, and were externally covered by a conical mound. Internally, their appearance was that of a house whose roof retained the typical structure of the wooden Etruscan houses. These hypogean tombs allowed elucidating quite clearly how the Etruscan houses should be. Thus, the layout of some of these Etruscan tombs allowed to conclude that in the typical Etruscan house there was an element that will remain much later as an essential part of the Roman house: the atrium or central space as a patio which in these hypogea was indicated as a rectangular excavation centrally located and bounded by four or more pillars, and that in the opposite side to the access of the tomb had a kind of chamber or bedroom that came to represent an element of the Roman house later known by the name of tablinum*. Sometimes this tablinum was rather complex in these tombs. Other tombs had a circular plan with a single pillar in its center, superimposed on the wall around the entire chamber they had some urns thus coinciding with other type of Roman mausoleum typical of the early years of the Empire. Towards the end of the history of the Etruscan civilization there was also a variant of a funerary monument that conformed to the same formula seen in the Roman grave called columbarium*.

The Etruscan sarcophagi were placed alone or in groups inside the tomb’s chambers. These sarcophagi are one of the most brilliant examples of the Etruscan sculptural production. In both large and small sarcophagi, the most striking feature was their cover: a sculpture of the deceased either lying or, more often, in recumbent position (lying on an elbow and with upright torso).

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses, ca. late 6th century BCE. (National Etruscan Museum, Rome). Stele from Travignoli, also known as Fiesole stele, ca. 5th century BCE. (Fiesole, Municipal Archaeological Museum, Tuscany, Italy).

At first these sarcophagi were made of terracotta, later they were more frequently sculpted in stone. Two of these terracotta sarcophagi from circa 530 BCE found in the necropolis of Cerveteri are of particular importance. One is preserved in the Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome and the other is in the Louvre Museum. Both are shaped as a sofa or couch in pure Ionic style and topped with sculptures of married couples. In both examples husband and wife are recumbent as if they were resting in their own home, the wife is in the foreground and behind her is the husband who places his right arm on the shoulder of his wife in a tender marital gesture. These smiling couples seem to be talking while attending the funeral banquet in their honor (if they aren’t already participating in the blessings of the afterlife). The husbands are tall and slender in both sarcophagi. They have a pointed beard which reinforces the sharpness of their chins. These human figures modeled in clay represent a high degree of skill in funerary sculpture. From the seventh century BCE and even from earlier dates there were more rudimentary human figures carved on steles with reliefs representing armed warriors with loose hair (see the famous Fiesole stele).

The Sarcophagus of Larthia Seianti, 2nd century BCE. (Florence Archaeological Museum). Etruscan funerary urn (British Museum).

Other funerary representations found in sarcophagi from after the Vth century BCE showed a very different human type from the one we mentioned before: obese men crowned with thick headbands and showing their bare chests and round bellies with large necklaces of sempervivum (houseleeks) usually hanging over these parts of their bodies. These fat Etruscans often hold in their left hand a small plate containing Charon’s obol*. Some of these were also accompanied by a female figure of serious expression representing either his wife or an underground divinity. Continue reading “ETRUSCAN ART” &rarr

Sarcophagus of the Spouses

It is a masterpiece known throughout the world. The spouses look at us, speak to us, make us ask questions. Their embrace evokes a story of love and touches peoples&rsquo hearts.

Texts have been elaborated to be read by different public (What does that mean?)

What we see is an enigmatic smile. In reality, it is a convention of ancient art known as the archaic smile: the artist sought not to reproduce a human smile but to accentuate facial expressions.

The eyes are now empty, but originally their hollowed out surfaces must have contained color: black and white. Even if it is hard for us to imagine, ancient works of art were once vividly colored. In the Museum, one can see many other works that preserve traces of color.

The two figures are represented in a tender embrace as they prepare to drink some wine together, a beautiful moment from everyday life that the artist wished to extend even into the afterlife. It is a scene of life and at the same time intimacy depicted on a sarcophagus that contained the remains of the deceased, who are portrayed as though they had never died.

The positioning of the hands suggests the presence of objects now lost: she perhaps was anointing herself with an unguent, an act which had funerary significance, while he may have held in his hand some garlands or a cup.

Among the Etruscans, it was normal for women to participate in the banquet as equals of their male counterparts in terms of rights and dignity, something which was not permissible among the Greeks.

The Mediterranean world of the second half of the 6th century BCE was turned upside down by events not so different from those that are still causing instability today.

Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) at the time was busy dealing with the advance of the Persians, who forced the Greeks of Phocaea, long-time residents of the Ionian coast, to relocate to the west. Some headed to a place which they had been frequenting for some time and where decades earlier they had founded colonies, including Marseille others, in particular artisans, were welcomed by the Etruscans.

To them we must give credit for the cultural and artistic transmission that gave rise to the first painted tombs in Tarquinia, painted terracotta plaques, and the Sarcophagus of the Spouses &ndash an extraordinary testament to the strong affinities which bound the Etruscans and Greeks for the duration of their history.

The sarcophagus, made of fired clay, was discovered in 1881 in 400 fragments in the Banditaccia necropolis in Cerveteri. A single comparable piece is known, which is now on display at the Louvre.

The quality of the details is such that we can observe numerous aspects of the clothing and manners of the symposiasts. In particular, we may note the woman&rsquos headdress, the characteristic Etruscan tutulus, and her shoes, the so-called calcei repandi, a type of footwear with a pointed toe bent upwards, clearly reflecting eastern fashion trends.

The artist&rsquos ability to conquer space is extraordinary, particularly the way in which he extends the gestures of the spouses into the viewers&rsquo space. The tender embrace of the spouses is so moving that it hardly requires explanation in order to arouse the emotions.

What is the legacy of Roman Etruscan Sculpture?

The greatest influence of the Etruscans was mainly in the techniques with bronze, which together with the Greek base served as a support for Roman portraiture. Therefore, what stands out most in this period is the work of bronze sculptures, as well as the extreme realism reflected in the faces created through the funerary masks.

On the other hand, in the empire, the idealization and magnification of the figure of the emperor took place. This fact is evidenced in the appearance of the emperor’s face, always the same in spite of time. Similarly, the portraits of the stern stand out, with the expression of feelings such as insecurity, anguish or fear reflected in their faces.

In the lower empire, realism and idealization disappeared, making the portrait more coarse and expressionist, highlighting the appearance of the eyes with greater volume and importance. Likewise, the surfaces are more ordinary, using hard stones from the East, such is the case of the colossal statue of Constantine.

In Etruscan ceramics, the terracotta technique was widely used in sculpture, to produce masks and decorate sarcophagi, both for domestic and funerary use. Hence, the pottery recovered in the necropolises of Etruria, were taken to the cities of Greece and Magna Graecia, offered in the exchange and business between Etruscans and Greeks. However, it was found that along with these imported works, there were local imitations of these ceramics, especially those in the Attic and Corinthian style, with a more affordable price than the imported ones. However, the quality of the imitation was very high, and it was difficult to differentiate the original from the imitation.

The Etruscans worked in goldsmithing, making beautiful objects with ivory and amber for jewelry and body adornment. They also elaborated cosmetic objects such as combs, small vessels for perfumes and ointments. They also worked cut semiprecious stones for rings, necklaces and earrings, with great skill and attention to detail. Therefore, it is admirable the skill of these master craftsmen who, using such rudimentary tools, produced objects of such beauty. The other reason for their mastery may lie in the Greek influence on their works of art, which they imitated because they had great appreciation and value for their perfection. Besides they had a special taste and identified with the Greek culture that resembled their own. However, they are considered by many analysts of the subject, as imitators with no intention of creating their own style, which is considered unfair, considering the beauty and perfection of their art.

The brightly painted sarcophagus of the Etruscan aristocratic woman Seianti was discovered in 1886 at Poggio Cantarello near Chiusi in Tuscany and was subsequently sold, along with its contents (a skeleton and some grave belongings), to the British Museum. A similar sarcophagus is in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum in Florence. Known as the Sarchophagus of Larthia Seianti, the two women were probably from the same dynastic family in ancient Chiusi.

The sarcophagus is a masterpiece of Etruscan artwork. The deceased woman's name is inscribed in Etruscan along the base of the chest. She must have belonged to one of the richest families of Chiusi, as Seianti is dressed sumptuously for the occasion, wearing an ornate gown and cloak, with complicated drapery falling sinuously over her body, and adorned with a tiara, earrings, bracelets and a necklace. Seianti has been depicted as a mature lady, who gestures to adjust her veil, realistically revealing parts of her body in the process. She leans against a pillow and holds a mirror in her other hand, gazing into the distance.

Scientific analysis of the bones and teeth that were deposited in the chest indicated that Seianti probably died at about 50–55 years of age. The rather idealised face of the deceased woman depicted on the sarcophagus, which was typical of Etruscan art at the time, can be compared with an accurate and less flattering reconstruction of her face in the museum, based on the features of the deceased woman's skull.

Etruscan Gods of Death and the Underworld

This blog has always been dedicated to the dark ones beneath the earth—the beautiful and horrible deities of the underworld! So today we will look at Etruscan gods of death and the afterlife. Sadly most of Etruscan literature and mythology has been lost, so in some cases all we have is obscure names. In the spirit of religion and mythology, I will try to make up for the lack of textual evidence with lurid pictures, extravagant adjectives, and outright supposition.

Charun (Death) with his hammer used to separate people from their lives

Much of Etruscan myth was strongly influenced by (or outright based on) Greek mythology. Aita was the equivalent of Hades who ruled over a similar underworld of spirits, monsters, and fallen gods. Aita’s wife “Phersipnai” was the unchanged analog of Greek Persephone. There were unique figures of the Etruscan cosmology who continued to have a hold on Roman practices and beliefs: like the “manes” which were the spirits of the dead which lingered near tombs and gravesites. There were also entities like Charun who were extremely unlike their Greco-Roman counterparts. Etruscan mythology as a whole has a bestial and naturalistic undertone of animal-human deities, human sacrifice, and violence.

To make this more straightforward (and to make this a coherent article—since data is scarce about some of these deities), here is an alphabetical list:

Aita Conjuring. A relief carved on a 2nd c BC ash urn from Perugia, in the Museo Etrusco Romano at Perugia. Drawing from Otto Volcano, Die Etrusker.

Aita: The Lord of the underworld: equivalent to the Greek Hades.

Calu: A mysterious savage underworld being who is a hybrid of wolf and man.

Charun: A blue skinned demon covered with snakes and carrying a hammer, Charun guided deceased spirits to their final home in the underworld. He is sometimes also depicted with boar’s tusks, a vulture’s beak, a huge black beard, and/or giant black wings. Charun was essentially the Etruscan spirit of death.

Culsu (AKA Cul): Pictured with scissors and a torch, Culsu was a female chthonic demon of gateways.

Letham (Lethns, Letha, Lethms, Leta) An Etruscan infernal goddess about whom little else is known. Worship her at your peril!

Mania: Reported to be the mother of the Lares and Manes, Mania was a dark goddess of the dead and the undead. According to ancient traditions and Roman legends about Etruria in the era of the pre-Roman kings, Mania was the central figure of the Laralia festival on May 1 st when children were sacrificed to her. Mania was quietly worshipped in Roman times and had a position in medieval and modern Tuscan folklore as a goddess of nightmares and demons.

Phersipnai (Phersipnei, Proserpnai): The wife of Aita and queen of the underworld a figure nearly identical to the Greek Persephone and Roman Proserpina.

Vanth: A winged goddess of the underworld who together with Charun acted as a psychopomp. She is usually portrayed with a kindly face and with bare breasts crossed by straps. She sometimes holds a key, a light, or a scroll and she tends to dress in a chiton. I wonder if her imagery didn’t skip over classical Rome, because (aside from her toplessness) she could easily be a Christian angel on the payroll of Saint Peter.

Charun and Vanth from the Tomb of the Anina Family. (ca. 300 BC)

I have done the best I could describing the underworld deities of Etruria. Of course, since everything about Etruscan society seems to involve ancient disputes, scholarly misunderstanding, and Roman fabrication, I have probably messed up substantially and I beg your understanding and forgiveness (particularly if you happen to be some terrifying fanged Etruscan death god). There is also a final mysterious category of Etruscan deities which should be mentioned—the Dii Involuti, “the hidden gods” who acted as a final arbiter of affairs both human and divine. These guys sound extremely scary and powerful and belong on any list of underworld deities. Unfortunately, in complete accordance with their name, I could not find out anything about them!

Etruscan Sarcophagus - History

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Gibby's AP Art History

Form- The portraits are human-sized.
Function-To hold the ashes of the dead couple.
Content- Shows the Estrucan tradition of women and men eating together, while reclining.
Context-Both sculptures were thought to of held objects in their hands, an egg showing life or death, and a perfume bottle or pomegranate.
Tradition/change- These figures are reminiscent of the Archaic Greek way of displaying sculpture, ex: The archaic smile.
Artistic intent- To show the loving relationship between the man and the women, for example the protective arm of the man.

Form: terra cotta
Function: To show celebration of life after death for the couple
Content: Shows a married couple
Context:The original location was Banditaccia necropolis
Tradition: Depicts ancient tradition of reclining while eating unlike Ancient Greece
Artistic Intent: to honor the couple after they died.

Form- Painted with materials such as ochre.
Function- To be a symbolic representation of the man and the woman, and their relationship.
Content- Shows a deceased married couple with the man holding a protective arm around the woman.
Context- Marital intimacy was rarely shown around this period.
Tradition- Invokes the social visibility of etruscan women.
Interpretation- The objects they are holding could be interpreted as wine glasses or alabastra.

Watch the video: Sarcophagus of the Spouses Rome (January 2022).