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Posted on June 14th, 2012, by

Etruscan civilization is one of the most mysterious civilizations of the ancient world. On the one hand, it was a well-developed civilization that produced a profound impact on the neighboring peoples, including Romans, but, on the other hand, the information about this ancient civilization is quite scarce and it is very difficult to gather a detailed information about this civilization. In this regard, tombs and funerary urns of Etruscan people can be very helpful because they can uncover some elements of Etruscan culture, lifestyle, beliefs and traditions. It should be said that the Etruscan reclining woman depicted in the funerary urn may be viewed as an example of a typical Etruscan funerary urn which depicts the woman, who, in all probability, deceased. This funerary urn can provide a researcher with information not only about the woman that was buried but also about traditions of Etruscan people and their attitude to death as well as afterlife.

Basically, as many other ancient people, Etruscan people accompanied the funerary ritual by various decoration and the coffin or, to put it more precisely, the funerary urn was one of the subject of a particular attention from the part of relatives of the deceased and people who were responsible for the funerals. In this respect, the funerary urn with the Etruscan reclining woman may be viewed as a perfect example of the funerary urn carefully prepared and skillfully decorated for the dead person. In fact, the reclining woman plays the key role in the composition of this work. She lies on the lid of the urn and she looks somewhere, as if she is just waiting for something. It should be pointed out that the Etruscan woman is depicted very realistically. This indicates to the fact that the creator of the urn apparently attempted to create such a realistic image of a dead person in order to emphasize that, even though she is dead, her image is preserved in the form of stone used for the creation of the reclining woman on the top of the lid. The woman lies calmly, she is relaxed and it seems that nothing can disturb her. In fact, she produces such a general impression as if she is just having some rest and there is no hint to death in her image, at any rate, at first glance.

The woman wears the mantle which hides the plump figure of the woman. In fact, her constitution reveals that the woman was quite healthy and strong, while well developed forms especially breast and thighs indicate to her feminine qualities, such as high fertilities, the qualities that were highly valued in Etruscan society. In all probability, the reclining woman is depicted at the moment of the banquet since Etruscan people traditionally lied during the dinner. The subject in the right hand of the woman is probably some plate that also supports the presupposition that the woman is present at some banquet.

By the way, the material of the funerary urn is stone that reveals the social position of the woman. In fact, Etruscan people buried the deceased in different types of funerary urns made of different material. As a rule, funerary urns were made of clay, because it was cheap and available material to ordinary people and they can use it without paying a lot of money. At any rate, they were consistently cheaper than stone funerary urns. At the same time, whatever the material of urns was, Etruscan people always made some decorations and depicted some people or figures on the urn. The lid of this stone urn bears the deceased, the woman who, in all probability, belonged to the upper class of Etruscan society. Obviously, she was not poor and it may be seen not only from the material of her urn but also from her look. She is apparently a person belonging to the local aristocracy since she looks calm, self-assured, she does not have any fear, she just lies and takes part in the banquet or prepares for it. If she were poor, she would not be depicted at the banquet.

In addition, she has a necklace on her neck and her head is covered with some material or probably it is a kind of decoration. Her hair is cut short. She has large eyes and she looks somewhere with some interest. Under her left hand, she has two pillows, which are not clearly seen, but still it is possible to presuppose that they are also the markers of her social status.

In general, it should be said that the reclining woman is calm, she is not said, though there are no obvious traces of joy, but probably some interest or expectation of something that is going to happen in a moment.

Obviously, such a representation of the reclining woman, which is actually the deceased may be a bit unusual to a contemporary viewer, to whom funerals are associated with grief and mourning. Instead, an Etruscan artist created a woman that is calm and relaxed, who has no fear or disturbance, as if she is just having a pleasant time or participate in the banquet. In fact, such a depiction of the reclining woman is not occasional and all details, even the slightest one are meaningful because in the funerary ritual people traditionally made all decorations for a certain purpose which reflected their views, beliefs and traditions.

In this respect, it is possible to say that even the material of the funerary urn is meaningful and for Etruscan people it was not less eloquent than an epitaph for a contemporary person. As it has been already mentioned, the stone urns were basically made for people who occupied the high social position and were very respected in Etruscan society. At any rate, the woman or her relatives had a possibility to pay for the creation of this funerary urn, which was quite expansive at that epoch. At the same time, the use of stone made this funerary urn almost eternal because, unlike clay used for the funerary urns for representatives of lower classes and ordinary Etruscan people, stone funerary urns could not be destroyed or damaged somehow. To put it more precisely, such urns could not be damaged naturally, but only on purpose that was forbidden and absolutely unacceptable in Etruscan society.

Furthermore, the “eternal”¯ material could symbolize the eternal life of the deceased because the tomb and funerary urn were viewed by Etruscan as their homes in the afterlife. Basically, the material of the funerary urn should inspire the respect and even admiration of ordinary people due to its expansive material and skillful decoration. Moreover, the figure of the woman also indicates to her material prosperity since she seems to be healthy and she is not disturbed by some problems that means that she is not in need. Also, the healthy image created by an artist could intend to emphasize the feminine qualities of the deceased, which could be highly appreciated in Etruscan society, such as female fertility, for instance. At any rate, she resembles a kind of Roman matron, which naturally appeared later when Rome started to grow, Etruscan civilization was in decline at that epoch.

On the other hand, the calmness of the woman could be interpreted by Etruscan people as readiness for the death because the woman had finished her life on the earth and as she died she had nothing to worry about anymore. Also, it should be said that the fact that the reclining woman participates in a kind of banquet may be also quite symbolic for Etruscan people. In all probability, they viewed the death as a kind of feast or a prominent event. In fact, being at the banquet, the woman probably expects the transition to the new life or the new world. Basically, the parallel between the death and the banquet indicate to the fact that death was not perceived tragically by Etruscan people. In stark contrast, they viewed as a normal event, an essential part of their life.

In general, this funerary urn at large and the reclining woman on the lid in particular reflect the major beliefs and norms of Etruscan culture and ideology. In this respect, it should be said that the reclining woman perfectly reveals the attitude of Etruscan people to death. Obviously, the fact that the woman is depicted calm, relaxed, and waiting for something, probably death or entering the new life or world, proves that Etruscan believed that the death is not the end of the life. Otherwise, it would be more logical to depict the deceased as a sleeping or simply dead person.

However, the creator of the urn depicted her not only alive but also quite active as she relaxes, and spend her time pleasantly, entertaining herself since she participates in the banquet.

Consequently, such a depiction of the deceased reveals the optimistic attitude of Etruscan people to the death, which they viewed as a transitional stage between the life on the earth and the afterlife. It is very important to underline that the woman does not actually wear some very posh clothes or some decorations, she has just a necklace.

Probably, she just prepares herself for a better life in another world. Moreover, it is obvious that she has no fear in face of the upcoming death that is another evidence of Etruscan belief in the existence of the afterlife.

Furthermore, it is important to underline that the funerary urns were not only essential elements of the funerary ritual, but they were also indicators and markers of the social status of a person. It has been already mentioned above that the woman apparently belongs to the upper classes of the society and this fact is very important because it is highly probable that they believed in the possibility of the existence of some social hierarchy even in the afterlife.

The funerary urn is made of stone and, from the practical or pragmatic point of view, there is no reason to bury a person in an expensive funerary urn, if it does not make any difference to this person in the afterlife. To put it more precisely, if Etruscan believed that in the afterlife all people are equal they would more likely to use an ordinary clay funerary urn, instead of the stone one. They could decorate the clay urn in the similar way, but the creator of the urn preferred stone.

In this regard, it is possible to explain such a choice by the Etruscan culture and ideology. In all probability, they viewed the funerary urn as a kind of home for the deceased. Consequently, it would be more logical to choose the best material to create the urn. In such a situation, the choice of the stone is quite logical. In addition, the stone could exist for a long period of time or even forever that means that Etruscan people also believed that the afterlife may be eternal and, in such a context, the choice of stone is quite symbolic.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the Etruscan reclining woman placed on the lid of the funerary urn may be viewed as an example of the art of ancient Etruscan people. This urn was apparently meaningful for Etruscan people and even contemporary researchers can make a lot of findings on researching and analyzing the reclining woman. At the same time, she is not only a symbolic figure but she also provides an opportunity to better understand traditional Etruscan culture and ideology, beliefs and traditions of these people.

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