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Work Villanovan biconical cinerary urn

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

Urne cinéraire biconique à décor géométrique incisé

© Musée du Louvre

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

Marie-Bénédicte Astier

This type of biconical urn, characteristic of the production of the Villanovan culture (9th–8th centuries BC), was used to hold ashes and burned bones after the cremation of bodies. Such urns were hand-modeled in raw clay (impasto), and decorated with incised geometric motifs. They were covered with a (sometimes bronze) bowl or helmet — a rather rudimentary symbolic representation of the deceased in the tomb.

A biconical impasto urn

This cinerary urn was discovered in the necropolis of Tarquinia, a major town of Southern Etruria, where it was probably made during the early Iron Age in the 9th or 8th century BC. It is characteristic of one of the most abundant productions of the Villanovan culture (from the site of Villanova, near Bologna). It is biconical in form, and was hand-modeled in a rather rough, heavy, and unrefined brown clay called impasto. It has one handle, and is decorated with very simple geometric motifs, incised into the clay on the neck and belly.

A representation of the deceased in the tomb

This type of vase was used to hold the ashes and burned bones of the deceased after incineration. Most of these Villanovan urns were covered with a bowl, others with a bronze helmet (or an impasto imitation). This association is generally interpreted as a symbolic representation of the deceased — a rudimentary but efficient means of evoking the dead person's status.

Villanovan tombs

Urns such as this were placed in tombs in the form of shallow wells dug into the earth and covered by a pile of stones. Other hut-shaped urns have provided precious information about the dwellings of the period.


Le monde étrusque, Marseille, 1977, p. 30, n° 4.

Aspects de l’art des Etrusques dans les collections du Louvre, Paris, 1976-1977, p. 8, n° 1.    

Technical description

  • Urne cinéraire biconique à décor géométrique incisé

    IXe - début du VIIIe siècle avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Tarquinia

  • Impasto

    H. : 49,50 cm. ; L. : 25,50 cm.

  • Dépôt du musée Pigorini (Rome), 1927

    CA 2591

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Etruria I
    Room 420
    Vitrine 1

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