Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Rome) – Smarthistory (2023)

The intimacy of this clay sculpture is unprecedented in the ancient world. What can it tell us about Etruscan culture?

Sarcophagus of the Spouses (or Sarcophagus with Reclining Couple), from the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri, Italy, c. 520 B.C.E., painted terracotta, 3′ 9 1/2″ x 6′ 7″ (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome)

Sarcophagus of the Spouses, c. 520 B.C.E., Etruscan, painted terracotta, 140 x 202 cm, found in the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome; photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses is an anthropoid (human-shaped), painted terracotta sarcophagus found in the ancient Etruscan city of Caere (now Cerveteri, Italy). The sarcophagus, which would have originally contained cremated human remains, was discovered during the course of archaeological excavations in the Banditaccia necropolis of ancient Caere during the nineteenth century and is now in Rome. The sarcophagus is quite similar to another terracotta sarcophagus from Caere depicting a man and woman that is presently housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris; these two sarcophagi are contemporary to one another and are perhaps the products of the same artistic workshop.

(Video) Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Rome)

Upper bodies (detail), Sarcophagus of the Spouses, c. 520 B.C.E., Etruscan, painted terracotta, 140 x 202 cm, found in the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome; photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

An archaic couple

The sarcophagus depicts a reclining man and woman on its lid. The pair rests on highly stylized cushions, just as they would have done at an actual banquet. The body of the sarcophagus is styled so as to resemble akline (dining couch). Both figures have highly stylized hair, in each case plaited with the stylized braids hanging rather stiffly at the sides of the neck. In the female’s case the plaits are arranged so as to hang down in front of each shoulder. The female wears a soft cap atop her head; she also wears shoes with pointed toes that are characteristically Etruscan. The male’s braids hang neatly at the back, splayed across the upper back and shoulders. The male’s beard and the hair atop his head is quite abstracted without any interior detail. Both figures have elongated proportions that are at home in the Archaic period in the Mediterranean.

Tomb of the Triclinium, c. 470 B.C.E., Etruscan chamber tomb, Tarquinia, Italy (photo: Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0)

A banquet

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses has been interpreted as belonging to a banqueting scene, with the couple reclining together on a single dining couch while eating and drinking. This situates the inspiration for the sarcophagus squarely in the convivial (social)sphere and, as we are often reminded, conviviality was central to Etruscan mortuary rituals. Etruscan funerary art—including painted tombs—often depicts scenes of revelry, perhaps as a reminder of the funeral banquet that would send the deceased off to the afterlife or perhaps to reflect the notion of perpetual conviviality in said afterlife. Whatever the case, banquets provide a great deal of iconographic fodder for Etruscan artists.

(Video) Empire: Medea Sarcophagus

Banquet Plaque (detail) from Poggio Civitate, early 6th century B.C.E., Etruscan, terracotta (Antiquarium di Poggio Civitate Museo Archeologico, Murlo, Italy)

In the case of the sarcophagus it is also important to note that at Etruscan banquets, men and women reclined and ate together, a circumstance that was quite different from other Mediterranean cultures, especially the Greeks. We see multiple instances of mixed gender banquets across a wide chronological range, leading us to conclude that this was common practice in Etruria. The terracotta plaque from Poggio Civitate, Murlo, for instance, that is roughly contemporary to the sarcophagus of the spouses shows a close iconographic parallel for this custom. This cultural custom generated some resentment—even animus—on the part of Greek and Latin authors in antiquity who saw this Etruscan practice not just as different, but took it as offensive behavior. Women enjoyed a different and more privileged status in Etruscan society than did their Greek and Roman counterparts.

Female figure’s face (detail), Sarcophagus of the Spouses, c. 520 B.C.E., Etruscan, painted terracotta, 140 x 202 cm, found in the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome; photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Technical achievement

(Video) Polykleitos, Doryphoros (Spear Bearer)

Seated statue of Zeus from Poseidonia (Paestum), c. 530 B.C.E., terracotta (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Paestum; photo: Richard Mortel, CC BY 2.0)

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses is a masterwork of terracotta sculpture. Painted terracotta sculpture played a key role in the visual culture of archaic Etruria. Terracotta artwork was the standard for decorating the superstructure of Etruscan temples and the coroplastic (terracotta) workshops producing these sculptures often displayed a high level of technical achievement. This is due, in part, to the fact that ready sources of marble were unknown in archaic Italy. Even though contemporary Greeks produced masterworks in marble during the sixth century B.C.E., terracotta statuary such as this sarcophagus itself counts as a masterwork and would have been an elite commission. Contemporary Greek colonists in Italy also produced high level terracotta statuary, as exemplified by the seated statue of Zeus from Poseidonia (later renamed Paestum) that dates c. 530 B.C.E.

Etruscan culture

In the case of the Caeretan sarcophagus, it is an especially challenging commission. Given its size, it would have been fired in multiple pieces. The composition of the reclining figures shows awareness of Mediterranean stylistic norms in that their physiognomy reflects an Ionianinfluence (Ionia was a region in present-day Turkey, that was a Greek colony)—the rounded, serene faces and the treatment of hairstyles would have fit in with contemporary Greek styles. However, the posing of the figures, the angular joints of the limbs, and their extended fingers and toes reflect local practice in Etruria. In short, the artist and his workshop are aware of global trends while also catering to a local audience. While we cannot identify the original owner of the sarcophagus, it is clear that the person(s) commissioning it would have been a member of the Caeretan elite.

Male figure’s face (detail), Sarcophagus of the Spouses, c. 520 B.C.E., Etruscan, painted terracotta, 140 x 202 cm, found in the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome; photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses as an object conveys a great deal of information about Etruscan culture and its customs. The convivial theme of the sarcophagus reflects the funeral customs of Etruscan society and the elite nature of the object itself provides important information about the ways in which funerary custom could reinforce the identity and standing of aristocrats among the community of the living.

Additional resources

This sculpture at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia.

(Video) Raphael, Marriage of the Virgin, 1504

L. Bonfante, ed., Etruscan Life and Afterlife: a Handbook of Etruscan Studies(Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986).

M. F. Briguet, Le sarcophage des époux de Cerveteri du Musée du Louvre(Florence: Leo Olschki, 1989).

O. J. Brendel, Etruscan Art,2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

S. Haynes, Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History(Los Angeles, California: Getty Publications, 2000).

E. Macnamara, Everyday life of the Etruscans(London: Batsford, 1973).

E. Macnamara, The Etruscans(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991).

A. S. Tuck, “The Etruscan Seated Banquet: Villanovan Ritual and Etruscan Iconography,” American Journal of Archaeology 98.4 (1994): 617–628.

J. M. Turfa, ed., The Etruscan World(London: Routledge, 2013).

A. Zaccaria Ruggiu, More regio vivere: il banchetto aristocratico e la casa romana di età arcaica(Rome: Edizioni Quasar, 2003).

(Video) Ara Pacis Augustae, Rome

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Rome) – Smarthistory (9)Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Rome) – Smarthistory (10)Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Rome) – Smarthistory (11)Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Rome) – Smarthistory (12)Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Rome) – Smarthistory (13)

More Smarthistory images…

FAQs

What is the purpose of the Sarcophagus of the Spouses? ›

Recomposed from about four hundred fragments, the sarcophagus of the spouses is actually an urn intended to hold the material remains of the deceased. Shaped in the round, the work represents a couple lying on a bed (kline), their busts raised frontally in the typical position of the banquet.

Why is the Etruscan Sarcophagus of the Spouses split into multiple pieces? ›

Splitting the piece in two parts would have allowed the artist to more easily manipulate the pieces before and after firing.

What does the sarcophagus with reclining couple? ›

A banquet. The Sarcophagus of the Spouses has been interpreted as belonging to a banqueting scene, with the couple reclining together on a single dining couch while eating and drinking.

What is the Sarcophagus of the Spouses made of? ›

It is a late 6th century BCE Etruscan anthropoid sarcophagus made of terracotta. It depicts a married couple reclining at a banquet together in the afterlife and was found in 19th century excavations at the necropolis of Cerveteri (ancient Caere).

Why did Romans use sarcophagi? ›

Used to bury leaders and wealthy residents in ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece, a sarcophagus is a coffin or a container to hold a coffin. Most sarcophagi are made of stone and displayed above ground.

What period was the Sarcophagus of the Spouses made? ›

Created: late 6th century BC, Collection: Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome, Italy Rights: CC-BY-SA. This is a late 6th century BC Etruscan anthropoid sarcophagus.

What is a sarcophagus meaning? ›

Word forms: sarcophagi, sarcophaguses. countable noun. A sarcophagus is a large decorative container in which a dead body was placed in ancient times.

How big is the Sarcophagus of the Spouses? ›

Sarcophagus of the Spouses (or Sarcophagus with Reclining Couple), from the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri, Italy, c. 520 B.C.E., painted terracotta, 3 feet 9 1/2 inches x 6 feet 7 inches (Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia, Rome).

Why are the man and woman on the Cerveteri sarcophagus shown in a reclining position quizlet? ›

Why are the man and woman on the Cerveteri sarcophagus shown in a reclining position? They are shown at a banquet.

What do scholars think the figures on the sarcophagus 6.8 from Cerveteri originally held in their hands what was the significance of this object? ›

What do scholars think the figures on the Sarcophagus (6.8) from Cerveteri originally held in their hands? What was the significance of this object? The sarcophagus was a symbol of eternity (it was an egg.) However, they thought it was going to be a cup or a perfume container.

What era is the sarcophagus from Cervetiri discovered? ›

found in the ancient Etruscan city of Caere (now Cerveteri, Italy). The sarcophagus, which would have originally contained cremated human remains, was discovered during the course of archaeological excavations in the Banditaccia necropolis of ancient Caere during the nineteenth century and is now in Rome.

How did Etruscans bury their dead? ›

Answer and Explanation: Very little is known about the Etruscans, but one of the few archaeological evidence we have comes from burial sites. They buried their dead underground in elaborately decorated tombs. Both cremation and inhumation were used, although cremation seems to be older than inhumation.

What did the Romans take from the Etruscans? ›

Etruscan influence on ancient Roman culture was profound. It was from the Etruscans that the Romans inherited many of their own cultural and artistic traditions, from the spectacle of gladiatorial combat, to hydraulic engineering, temple design, and religious ritual, among many other things.

What aspects of Etruscan art and architecture is unique to them? ›

Characteristic achievements are the wall frescoes—painted in two-dimensional style—and realistic terra-cotta portraits found in tombs. Bronze reliefs and sculptures are also common. Tombs found at Caere, carved underground out of soft volcanic rock, resemble houses.

What is a sarcophagus in ancient Rome? ›

A sarcophagus (meaning “flesh-eater” in Greek) is a coffin for inhumation burials, widely used throughout the Roman empire starting in the second century A.D. The most luxurious were of marble, but they were also made of other stones, lead (65.148), and wood.

How many sarcophagi are there? ›

In the burial practices of ancient Rome and Roman funerary art, marble and limestone sarcophagi elaborately carved in relief were characteristic of elite inhumation burials from the 2nd to the 4th centuries AD. At least 10,000 Roman sarcophagi have survived, with fragments possibly representing as many as 20,000.

How were Roman sarcophagi reused? ›

sarcophagus lids were reused for door lintels and windowsill fittings. statues found within the same domus, a reclining nymph belonging to the lid of a klinê sar- cophagus was reused as fountain figure. In addition to its considerable reuse in private contexts, funerary material was integrated into public buildings.

Who discovered the Sarcophagus of the Spouses? ›

According to the Louvre Museum , "The Sarcophagus of the Spouses was found in 1845 by the Marquis Campana in the Banditaccia necropolis in Caere (modern Cerveteri)" [Louvre 2013]. The sarcophagus has since been returned Italy and now resides in The Villa Giulia National Etruscan Museum in Rome [Moretti 2001, 3].

What sorts of images are most commonly found in murals in Etruscan tombs? ›

These are typically representations of sphinxes or mythical monsters which acted as guardians and show an influence from Phoenicia and the Near East. The 6th-century BCE Campana Tomb at Veii is a good example of this type.

What is a life size bronze sculpture of an Etrusco Roman man also known as the orator? ›

Aule Metele, also known as The Orator, is a life-size bronze sculpture of an Etrusco-Roman man. The figure is depicted wearing a Roman toga and Roman sandals. He stands in a pose of an orator, with his hand raised to address a crowd.

Why are the man and woman on the Cerveteri sarcophagus shown in a reclining position quizlet? ›

Why are the man and woman on the Cerveteri sarcophagus shown in a reclining position? They are shown at a banquet.

Who is in the sarcophagus under Notre Dame? ›

It is believed the remains belonged to a 14th-century senior church official, per The Guardian.

How big is the sarcophagus of the spouses? ›

Sarcophagus of the Spouses (or Sarcophagus with Reclining Couple), from the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri, Italy, c. 520 B.C.E., painted terracotta, 3 feet 9 1/2 inches x 6 feet 7 inches (Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia, Rome).

Who discovered the Sarcophagus of the Spouses? ›

According to the Louvre Museum , "The Sarcophagus of the Spouses was found in 1845 by the Marquis Campana in the Banditaccia necropolis in Caere (modern Cerveteri)" [Louvre 2013]. The sarcophagus has since been returned Italy and now resides in The Villa Giulia National Etruscan Museum in Rome [Moretti 2001, 3].

What do scholars think the figures on the sarcophagus 6.8 from Cerveteri originally held in their hands what was the significance of this object? ›

What do scholars think the figures on the Sarcophagus (6.8) from Cerveteri originally held in their hands? What was the significance of this object? The sarcophagus was a symbol of eternity (it was an egg.) However, they thought it was going to be a cup or a perfume container.

How did Etruscans bury their dead? ›

Answer and Explanation: Very little is known about the Etruscans, but one of the few archaeological evidence we have comes from burial sites. They buried their dead underground in elaborately decorated tombs. Both cremation and inhumation were used, although cremation seems to be older than inhumation.

Which of the following best describes the two figures depicted on this sarcophagus funerary monument )? ›

Which of the following best describes the two figure depicted on this sarcophagus (funerary monument)? The figures' faces are individual and animated.

What culture influenced the Etruscans in the construction of a tomb also called a sarcophagus? ›

The Etruscan civilization was always influenced by the Ionian Greek culture. This was manifested in its typical way of burial with sarcophagi, though in its early stages they also used funerary urns.

What effect did the use of concrete allow the Romans to achieve in architecture? ›

Concrete was important in Roman architecture because it was a light but strong material that permitted the construction of large ceilings like the domed roof of the Pantheon in Rome. Concrete was also much cheaper than stone blocks and was used as a facing for walls which had rubble interiors.

What is a sarcophagus meaning? ›

Word forms: sarcophagi, sarcophaguses. countable noun. A sarcophagus is a large decorative container in which a dead body was placed in ancient times.

Was the rose window saved in Notre Dame? ›

Notre Dame Cathedral's three stained-glass windows survived a fire Monday that burned through the Paris landmark. The archbishop of Paris told CNN's affiliate BFM TV on Tuesday that all three of the iconic 13th-century windows, called the rose windows, are intact.

What did they find underneath Notre Dame? ›

During the preparatory excavation, archaeologists discovered a number of historical artifacts including painted sculptures, tombs and sections of the lost rood screen which was a sort-of fence that was constructed in 1230 to separate the choir from the congregation.

What era is the sarcophagus from Cervetiri discovered? ›

found in the ancient Etruscan city of Caere (now Cerveteri, Italy). The sarcophagus, which would have originally contained cremated human remains, was discovered during the course of archaeological excavations in the Banditaccia necropolis of ancient Caere during the nineteenth century and is now in Rome.

What sorts of images are most commonly found in murals in Etruscan tombs? ›

These are typically representations of sphinxes or mythical monsters which acted as guardians and show an influence from Phoenicia and the Near East. The 6th-century BCE Campana Tomb at Veii is a good example of this type.

Why was the Temple of Minerva built? ›

The Temple of Minerva was a Greek style temple erected in Guatemala City by the government of president Manuel Estrada Cabrera in 1901 to celebrate the Fiestas Minervalias. Soon, the main cities in the rest of Guatemala built similar structures as well.

Videos

1. Santa Maria Antiqua Sarcophagus
(Smarthistory)
2. Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome
(Smarthistory)
3. Augustus of Primaporta, power and propaganda
(Smarthistory)
4. Apulu (Apollo of Veii)
(Smarthistory)
5. Smarthistory Video Project
(Angela Pak)
6. Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Three Daughters
(Smarthistory)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Chrissy Homenick

Last Updated: 02/10/2023

Views: 6205

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Chrissy Homenick

Birthday: 2001-10-22

Address: 611 Kuhn Oval, Feltonbury, NY 02783-3818

Phone: +96619177651654

Job: Mining Representative

Hobby: amateur radio, Sculling, Knife making, Gardening, Watching movies, Gunsmithing, Video gaming

Introduction: My name is Chrissy Homenick, I am a tender, funny, determined, tender, glorious, fancy, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.