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Work Canopic vase

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

Vase « canope »

© 1997 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

During the Archaic period, the town of Chiusi specialized in the production of terracotta cinerary urns, wrongly known as "canopic vases" because of their resemblance to Egyptian jars for viscera. They show a desire to humanize the vase, to give back to the deceased his or her individuality, which had been destroyed by cremation. Here, the lid is modeled in the form of a female head and arms are affixed to the handles. These urns were placed in tombs, sometimes on a clay throne.

The cinerary urns of Chiusi

This cinerary urn was made during the late 6th century BC, and is an example of the original pottery made in the workshops in the region around Chiusi, an important town in the Chiana valley in northern Etruria. This type of vase, which was first produced during the 7th and 8th centuries BC, is wrongly called a "canopic vase" because of its similarity to Egyptian jars containing the mummified viscera of the deceased. The urns from Chiusi, however, were intended to hold the ashes of the dead. They were placed inside the tomb, often in a large clay vase buried in the ground (a ziro tomb). Some were placed on a terracotta seat with a rounded back, reminiscent in shape of the bronze throne in the Louvre (Br 4406).

An anthropomorphic vase

These cinerary vases were given an anthropomorphic appearance in an attempt to restore the deceased's individuality that had been destroyed by the cremation rite. The ovoid belly is surmounted by a lid modeled in the form of a female head, as is indicated by the elegant hair and jewelry. The earlobes are pierced and must originally have been adorned with drop earrings that have since been lost. The hair is worked into twisting locks, ending in regular curls. However, this is not a portrait of the dead woman. The facial features are simplified and are not likenesses, as confirmed by comparison with other urns, both female and male. Two movable forearms add to the anthropomorphic appearance of the vase.


Gempeler Robert D., Die etruskischen Kanopen : Herstellung, Typologie, Entwicklungsgeschichte, Bern, 1970, pp. 105-106, n 96.

Technical description

  • Vase « canope »

    1e quart du VIe siècle avant J.-C.

    Chiusi, Italie

  • Terre cuite, objet façonné au tour et modelé

    H. : 50 cm.

  • Achat, 1851 , 1851

    D 162

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Etruria II
    Room 421

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