Sunday, March 21, 2021

Etruscan funerary banquet figurines

"The banquet was one of the most popular and consistent funerary motifs in ancient Etruria. The earliest banquet scenes depict people sitting, whereas later representations show banqueters reclining on couches. The deceased is either depicted at a meal or ancestor figures are shown welcoming the newly deceased to the banquet. The characterization of the deceased at a meal is a funerary theme that also finds expression in the earlier tomb groups of the Villanovan period." - Anthony S. Tuck, The Etruscan Seated Banquet: Villanovan Ritual and Etruscan Iconography

One of the earliest representations of a seated banquet was found in the Tomb of the Five Chairs at Cerveteri. A terracota figure was originally placed on each of five rock-carved thrones in a side chamber of the cruciform tomb.  Two stone tables were placed in front of the chairs  and classicist F. Prayon further describes the setting as including a large basket, libation table, and a rectangular base used for two additional cylindrical thrones.

The five figures were identified as three males and two females based on the style of the fibula worn by them. All figurines are constructed in the ritual pose, however, with the left arm hidden beneath a cloak or shroud and only the hand visible.  The right arm is extended with the palm up. Archaeologist Anthony S. Tuck states that this common gesture suggests that the scene represents more than just a simple scene of people eating and should be construed as one of welcoming and acceptance representing the induction and elevation of the newly deceased to the honorific status of the ancestors themselves.

The garments worn by the figures are quite similar to the robes of figures from a slightly earlier Tomb of the Statues at nearby Ceri. Although not well preserved these figurines hold a scepter topped with a lotus palmette which parallel enthroned figures from Asia Minor depicted on ivory plaques from Nimrud.   So scholars conclude that these works were created by Near Eastern immigrant artisans or copied by Etruscan carvers familiar with Near Eastern imports but manipulated to convey a specifically Etruscan idea.

Banquet figurine from the Tomb of the Five Chairs at Cerveteri, Etruscan, 625-600 BCE, terracotta, at the British Museum.

Banquet figurine from the Tomb of the Five Chairs at Cerveteri, Etruscan, 625-600 BCE, terracotta, at the Capitoline Museum in Rome


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