Cinerary Urn, mid-2nd century B.C.
Terra cotta with traces of polychrome
This urn, found in a tomb near Chiusi in central Italy, reveals the mastery of the Etruscan craftsman in molding terra cotta. Modeled in high relief and in the round, the work conveys emotional pathos and drama. Once painted, it still bears traces of red, blue, vermilion, brown, and yellow.
The figure of the old man on the top portrays the deceased, whose ashes were contained within the urn. Propped up on pillows, he reclines as if enjoying a banquet in a conventional pose that was later copied by the Romans. Characteristic of Etruscan portraiture is the unflinching naturalism of the wrinkled face and flabby body- specific features that would have identified the man to friends and family. The six figures engaged in vigorous combat on the front panel of the base suggest that the deceased was a soldier. On the ends, under the arched entrances to Hades, wait the dread figures of Vanth, goddess of the dead, and Charun, escort of the dead. The latter, winged and wearing a lion skin, owns the hammer that rests on the altar beside him.