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Work Cinerary urn from Chiusi
Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)
Cinerary urn from Chiusi
© Musée du Louvre
Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)
During the Hellenistic period, great numbers of terra-cotta funerary urns decorated with polychrome work were produced in the workshops of Chiusi. Here the deceased is depicted on the lid as a young woman with a fan. The decoration of the container illustrates an episode from the Theban legend: the combat of the Eteocles and Polynices, the sons of Oedipus, who were enemies and killed each other in the presence of two Furies.
A cinerary urn from Chiusi
This terra-cotta urn decorated with polychrome work is typical of the funerary memorials produced in the workshops of Chiusi, central Etruria, in the second century BC. The Etruscans, who both inhumed and cremated their dead until the end of the Hellenistic period, were renowned for producing this type of memorial from the late fourth century BC. The shape and iconography of these cinerary urns are quite conventional: the container is usually decorated with a mythological scene executed in high relief, while the deceased is shown on the lid, half stretched out, in the traditional pose of a guest at a banquet. Here the deceased is a young woman holding a fan in the shape of a leaf in her right hand; her name is given by a painted inscription at the top of the container - Thana Celia, wife of Cumni. This likeness is not a true portrait: as with most of the Chiusi urns, the head is small and the facial features are regular and not individualized.
The reliefs on the containers were often inspired by Greek legends. These legends had long been familiar in the Italic world, thanks to epics, tragedy, and depictions in painting, sculpture, and the lesser arts. Craftsmen were partial to dramatic themes, such as the Seven against Thebes, the life of Orestes, the Trojan myths, and Greek spirits, such as Charon and the Furies.
The fatal duel of the brothers Eteocles and Polynices
The episode depicted on this urn forms part of the Theban legend and features frequently on terra-cotta urns from Chiusi. Eteocles and Polynices, sons of Oedipus and enemies, fight for possession of the throne in a terrible struggle that proves fatal for both brothers. They are goaded on by Furies on each side, each one carrying a burning torch, as if presaging the imminent death of the young princes. The subject was clearly very popular with the Etruscans of Chiusi and had become so through Greek literature, particularly the tragedies of fifth century BC Athens. The scene is sometimes interpreted as a legendary, almost historical episode from Etrusco-Roman past; rather than being the duel between Eteocles and Polynices, some people see it as the struggle of Arruns, son of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (Tarquin the Elder) and the Roman consul Brutus. However, there is little evidence to support this hypothesis.
BibliographyBriguet M.-F., Les urnes cinéraires étrusques, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux (RMN), Paris, 2002, n 1, p. 43-45.
Aspects de l'art des Etrusques dans les collections du Louvre, Imprimerie Paris, 1976-1977, p. 38, n 85, fig. p. 39.
Cinerary urn from Chiusi
Second century BC
Chiusi, Central Etruria (Italy)
Clay sculpted in the round and in high relief, polychrome painting
Container: H. 28 cm; L. 43 cm; D. 21 cm.Lid: H. 27 cm; L. 47 cm; D. 25.5 cm.
Formerly in the Vaillant Collection, purchased 1851
The Duel of Eteocles and Polynices
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