• Thu. Mar 30th, 2023

The Etruscan Sarcophagus of the Spouses: A Feast for the Dead


Nov 17, 2022

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses is taken into account to be one of many biggest masterpieces of Etruscan artwork. The Etruscans, who originated in Italy between the Arno and Tiber rivers, are well-known for his or her terracotta sculptures and funerary artwork within the artwork historical past world. The Sarcophagus of the Spouses is probably probably the most well-known instance of Etruscan funerary artwork and dates again to the sixth century BC. Discovered on the Banditaccia necropolis in Caere, it might now be seen on the Nationwide Etruscan Museum in Rome. It provides us a captivating perception into not solely the Etruscan artwork world, but additionally Etruscan views on ladies’s place in society and life after demise.

Inside of the Rilievi Tomb within the Banditaccia necropolis. (Roberto Ferrari / CC BY SA 2.0 )

What’s the Sarcophagus of the Spouses?

Manufactured from terracotta, the Sarcophagus of the Spouses depicts a person and a girl reclining on a kline, a eating sofa with cushions for consolation. The lads and girl each have closely stylized hair, plaited with braids. The lady’s braids cling stiffly on the sides of her neck. The proportions of their our bodies are elongated, as was widespread in archaic interval artworks.  The couple is depicted as smiling, with almond-shaped eyes meant to present them a contented or content material look. The person is barefoot, whereas the girl wears pointed sneakers, an Etruscan attribute.

Close-up detail of the feet on the Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Sailko / CC BY SA 4.0)

Shut-up element of the toes on the Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Sailko / CC BY SA 4.0 )

In brief, the sarcophagus depicts a seemingly completely happy couple lounging upon a snug couch. Sadly, the couple’s arms have been broken, and no matter they have been holding has been misplaced. It may be assumed that they have been both holding wine or meals.

The man and woman on the Sarcophagus of the Spouses have gentle smiles, and both were original holding objects – perhaps making a toast to the afterlife. (Damien Entwistle / CC BY NC 2.0)

The person and girl on the Sarcophagus of the Spouses have light smiles, and each have been authentic holding objects – maybe making a toast to the afterlife. (Damien Entwistle / CC BY NC 2.0 )

An Etruscan Funeral Banquet

The best way the person and girl are reclining on the kline has prompted historians to surmise that the Sarcophagus of the Spouses initially belonged to a banqueting scene. Etruscan funerary art typically depicted scenes of revelry and celebration, and the Sarcophagus of the Spouses seems to be no totally different.

It’s thought the aim of this artwork was to remind individuals of the standard Etruscan funeral banquet. The Etruscans favored to exit with a celebration, and funerals typically rejoiced within the lifetime of the departed, quite than mourning their demise. The Sarcophagus of the Spouses additionally displays the concept that the afterlife was a spot of conviviality and revelry in Etruscan tradition. The funeral was solely the beginning of the occasion for the lately deceased.

Distinctive Etruscan Attitudes in the direction of Ladies

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses is helpful in exhibiting us how Etruscan attitudes towards ladies might have differed in comparison with these of their Greek neighbors, particularly regarding how ladies have been anticipated to behave in public.

As may be seen from the sarcophagus, at these banquets it was widespread for women and men to recline and eat collectively in shut proximity. The Greeks would have been shocked by this. In Greek tradition, it might have been vanishingly uncommon for a girl to be allowed to even attend such an occasion, not to mention cuddle up along with her companion in public.

Certainly, the actual fact the sarcophagus contains a girl in any respect would have been an oddity to the Greeks. Throughout the archaic interval, it was widespread to put a recumbent determine atop a sarcophagus. Nonetheless, it was unusual outdoors of Etruscan artwork to function a feminine determine.

Compared to their Greek counterparts , it was widespread for Etruscan ladies to participate in public life and attend occasions, corresponding to banquets and events. There’s some proof to point that Etruscan ladies of excessive social standing have been seen as equals.

Etruscan ladies of excessive society have been typically literate. It was additionally believed that it was ladies who have been liable for carrying on the bloodline, as they carried and bore the kids. That is totally different from many cultures, which see it because the male duty to hold on the bloodline.

The life-sized sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa, an Etruscan noblewoman, circa 150 BC. Etruscan views on women’s role in society was quite different from their neighbors. (Gryffindor / CC BY SA 3.0)

The life-sized sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa, an Etruscan noblewoman, circa 150 BC. Etruscan views on ladies’s function in society was fairly totally different from their neighbors. (Gryffindor / CC BY SA 3.0 )

The Technical Marvel of the Sarcophagus of the Spouses

The Etruscans have been famed for his or her terracotta works, and the Sarcophagus of the Spouses is a technical masterpiece. The piece measures round 2 meters (6 toes) lengthy, and sculpting its life-sized figures out of clay would have been no straightforward feat.

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses would have been time-consuming and immensely costly to make. Whereas we have no idea who commissioned the piece, it absolutely would have been somebody from the Etruscan’s highest social class.

The Etruscan artists of Cerveteri and Veii most popular working with clay which was extremely refined when engaged on large-scale sculptures, such because the Sarcophagus of the Spouses. The clay’s clean floor made the applying of paint and the addition of ending touches that a lot simpler. Whereas the sarcophagus has misplaced its authentic paint job, myriad effective particulars are nonetheless evident.

Working with clay, nonetheless, turns into exponentially more durable because the piece grows bigger. That is why the sarcophagus was made out of a number of items; each the lid and physique are bisected. This made it a lot simpler for the artist to govern the clay each earlier than and after firing. Seen intently, a skinny line may be seen separating the lovers from the mattress they’re reclining on. The 2 items have been sculpted individually after which joined.

The four separate pieces of the Louvre Sarcophagus of the Spouses during restoration (Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick / GFDL 1.2)

The 4 separate items of the Louvre Sarcophagus of the Spouses throughout restoration (Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick / GFDL 1.2 )


The Sarcophagus of the Spouses isn’t just a formidable piece of art work. It’s a helpful perception into Etruscan tradition, which has traditionally typically been overshadowed by that of the traditional Greeks and Romans.

Historical Greece, with its democracy and smart philosophers, is usually held up on a pedestal. But the sarcophagus is a vital reminder that, in some methods, the Greeks lagged behind their Etruscan neighbors. The Etruscans typically appear to have had a way more favorable opinion of girls. This isn’t to idolize the Etruscans, nonetheless; you will need to bear in mind solely high-born Etruscan ladies loved such freedoms.

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses’ depiction of a funeral banquet can also be fascinating. The Etruscans had a wholesome perspective in the direction of demise and mourning. A funeral was not held to mourn the deceased, however to rejoice their life by way of good meals and good wine. The Etruscans despatched you off with a celebration, within the hope that the occasion would stick with it into your afterlife. That doesn’t sound unhealthy in any respect.

Prime picture: The Sarcophagus of the Spouses is an beautiful instance of Etruscan artwork, and commentary on their society. Supply: Sailko / CC BY SA 4.0

By Robbie Mitchell

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