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Work Cinerary urn with spouses on the lid

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)

Urne cinéraire : couple à demi-étendu sur une klinè (lit), faisant les gestes de l'offrande du parfum

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

Discovered in the same necropolis in Caere (modern Cerveteri) as the "Sarcophagus of the Spouses," this cinerary urn also bears witness, albeit in a more modest way, to the boom in terracotta sculpture in the workshops there during the Archaic period. The deceased are shown reclining on the casket, which is in the form of a bed, in accordance with a style that originated in Asia Minor. They are offering perfume, one of the essential components of Etruscan funerary ritual.

Terracotta sculpture in Caere

Smaller and of more modest quality than the famous "Sarcophagus of the Spouses" in the Louvre (CP 5194), this cinerary urn is comparable to that illustrious example in terms of its shape, decoration, style, and religious significance. In all probability it came from the Banditaccia necropolis in Caere, where the sarcophagus was found in 1850. Constructed from clay between 510 and 500 BC, during the late Archaic period, the urn was originally decorated with paint, of which no trace remains today. During this period, terracotta sculpture was flourishing in the workshops of Caere, both for funerary sculpture and architectural decorations. The flexibility of the material offered artisans a very wide range of options, and enabled them to compensate for the lack of stone suitable for large-scale sculptures which affected this region of southern Etruria.

Funerary ritual

This urn was designed to contain the ashes of one or more dead people after cremation. It takes the form of a bed, upon which the deceased are reclining as if at a banquet, in accordance with a style born in Asia Minor. The theme of the banquet, whether real or funerary, appears frequently in Etruscan art, both in sculpture and painting. Unlike in the Greek world, where banquets were reserved for men, the Etruscan woman, who held an important place in society, is represented by her husband's side, on the same scale as him and in a similar pose. The couple are reclining on cushions in the form of wine skins, which evoke the sharing of wine-one of the ceremonies in funerary ritual. Tenderly clasped by her husband, the deceased woman is pouring a few drops of perfume from an alabastron into the palm of his left hand, thereby making the gesture of offering perfume, another essential component of funerary ritual. In her left hand she is holding a pomegranate, a symbol of immortality.

The influence of eastern Greece

The composition and style of this urn owe much to the influence exerted by artists from eastern Greece upon Etruscan art during the late 6th century BC. The Ionians in particular were arriving in Etruria in large numbers, having been forced into exile by the Persian threat.
The woman's elegant finery, and the details of the fabrics and the hair, must originally have been highlighted by paint, no longer visible today. However, the influence of Ionian art is still discernible in the receding profiles of the faces with their discreet smiles, and in the full forms of the bodies of the deceased. Some features are more characteristic of Etruscan art, notably a certain lack of formal coherence, the minimal plastic volume accorded to the legs, and the attention devoted to gesture.

Bibliography

Briguet Marie-Françoise, "Urnes archaïques étrusques", in
Revue Archéologique, 1968, t. 1, pp. 50-57, fig. 3, 7 et 9.
Briguet Marie-Françoise, Le Sarcophage des époux de Cerveteri
du musée du Louvre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1988, p. 67, fig. 61-65.

Technical description

  • Urne cinéraire : couple à demi-étendu sur une klinè (lit), faisant les gestes de l'offrande du parfum

    Vers 510 - 500 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Cerveteri

    Production : Cerveteri

  • Terre cuite

    H. : 56 cm. ; l. : 58 cm. ; L. : 28 cm.

  • Collection Campana, 1863 , 1863

    Couple reclining on a kline (bed), making the gesture of offering perfume

    Cp 5193

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Etruria I
    Room 18

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