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Sarcophagus of the Spouses

I wanted to preface this post by saying, for some weird reason, this work happens to be one of my favorites in the entire curriculum.

Fundamental Information

To put it simply, Sarcophagus of the Spouses is one of the most important objects ever to be found in an Etruscan tomb because it conveys a large amount about Etruscan culture. Because the Etruscans didn't leave any history or literature behind, historians know almost nothing about Etruscan culture. However, the Etruscans left behind a lot of artwork, which is where most of the information comes from and explains why this work is so significant.

The sarcophagus most likely belonged to a larger banquet scene. In Etruscan culture, funeral banquets were convivial rather than depressing. They wanted to celebrate sending the deceased off to the afterlife. Banquet scenes were commonly shown on walls and frescoes in Etruscan tombs.

The work itself is a large terracotta coffin with two figures attached to a lid that can be lifted off. Based off their outstretched hands and comfortable body language, we can tell that the couple is extremely social, animated and personable. In addition, the couple lays in a comfortable and close embrace. Both figures have stylized features, including their eyes, braided hair, and elongated body proportions. Clearly, the artist wasn't concerned with portraying a naturalistic representation of the human body.

Fun fact: the sarcophagus was found in over 400 pieces and was arranged back together

Sarcophagus of the Spouses. 520 B.C.E. Etruscan. painted terracotta,

Compare & Contrast

One important thing to note is that the AP loves to compare Etruscan and Greek culture. I want to highlight some of the main differences and similarities between Etruscan and Greek artwork.

The couple depicted on top of the coffin is incredibly animated. In contrast, Greek sculptures were mostly stiff. Anavysos Kouros (pictured on the right) is a perfect example of the rigid nature of Greek sculptures.

Sarcophagus of the Spouses shows that women were regarded with a higher level of respect in Etruscan culture than in Greek culture. In the sculpture, the man and woman recline and are shown dining at the banquet together. In contrast, in Greek culture only men were invited to attend special events.

A similarity between Anavysos Kouros and Sarcophagus of the Spouses is the highly stylized and braided hair. In addition, both sculptures have a subtle archaic smile.


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