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Work The "Sarcophagus of the Spouses"

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

Sarcophage, dit "Sarcophage des époux''

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Philippe Fuzeau

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

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This exceptional monument, a sarcophagus or cinerary urn, comes from Caere (modern Cerveteri), a city famous in the Archaic period for its clay sculpture. It features the deceased tenderly entwined, reclining on a bed in the attitude of banqueters, in accordance with a style that originated in Asia Minor. They are making the gesture of offering perfume, a ritual that, along with the sharing of wine, was part of the funeral ceremony.

An example of terracotta sculpture from Caere

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses was found in 1845 by the Marquis Campana in the Banditaccia necropolis in Caere (modern Cerveteri). Purchased in 1861 by Napoleon III, this monument has often been regarded as a sarcophagus because of its exceptional dimensions. However, its function remains uncertain because burial and cremation were both practiced by the Etruscans. It may actually have been a large urn designed to contain the ashes of the deceased. Only one example similar to this work is known (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome), which also demonstrates the high level of skill attained by the sculptors of Caere in clay sculpture during the late 6th century BC.
During the Archaic period, terracotta was one of the preferred materials in the workshops of Caere for funeral monuments and architectural decoration. The ductility of clay offered artisans numerous possibilities, compensating for the lack of stone suitable for sculpture in southern Etruria.

Funerary banquet and ritual

This urn takes the form of a bed, upon which the deceased are resting in the position of banqueters. This theme was not an Etruscan invention, but originated in Asia Minor: the Etruscans, like the Greeks before them, had adopted the eastern custom of feasting in a reclining position, and the conventional method of representing it. 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, in the same proportions and in a similar pose. The couple are reclining on cushions in the form of wineskins, a reference to the sharing of wine, a ceremony that was part of funerary ritual. Tenderly clasped by her husband, the deceased woman is pouring a few drops of perfume into his hand, probably from an alabastron, as can be seen on a small urn displayed nearby (cinerary urn with the spouses on the lid, Louvre, CP 5193); in so doing, she is making the gesture of offering perfume, another essential component of funerary ritual. In her left hand she is holding a small, round object, possibly a pomegranate, a symbol of immortality.

The influence of eastern Greece

The style of this monument shows the influence exerted by artists from eastern Greece on Etruscan art-particularly the Ionians, who emigrated in large numbers during the late 6th century BC. The casket and the lid are decorated with bright paintwork, now partially disappeared, which adds to the elegance of the woman's finery, and to the details of the fabrics and the hair. The smiling faces and full forms of the bodies are also inspired by Ionian sculpture. However, some of the features are typical of Etruscan art, such as a certain lack of formal coherence, the way the legs in particular have received less plastic volume, and the emphasis on the gestures of the deceased.

Bibliography

Briguet Marie-Françoise, Le Sarcophage des époux de Cerveteri
du musée du Louvre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1988.
Les Étrusques et l'Europe, cat. exp. Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 15 septembre-14 décembre 1992, Altes Museum, Berlin,
25 février-31 mai 1993, organisée par la Réunion des musées nationaux,
le Ministerio per i beni culturali e ambientali, Italie et les Staalichen Museen zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1992, pp. 234-236, 330, 337, 354, 411, 432, n 411, fig. 352-357.

Technical description

  • Sarcophage, dit "Sarcophage des époux''

    Vers 520 - 510 av. J.-C.

    Provenance : Cerveteri (nécropole de Banditaccia)

    Production : Cerveteri

  • Terre cuite polychrome

    H. : 1,11 m. ; l. : 1,94 m. ; L. : 0,69 m.

  • Collection Campana, 1863

    Cp 5194

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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