Etruscan Tombs in Chiusi

Day 11 – Chiusi

Daily Wrap-Up

One Word
  • Barb: Etruscan
  • Mike: Ancient
  • Jen: Tombs
Two Words
  • Barb: Felicitous church
  • Mike: Colorful cathedral
  • Jen: More cats
Three or Four Words
  • Barb: Quaint, compact church square
  • Mike: Reclining funerary figures
  • Jen: Tiny town, impressive collection
One Sentence
  • Barb: I love these tiny, perfect, compact towns!
  • Mike: When you come up with a good ossuary motif, stick with it.
  • Jen: I want to go for a walk one day and discover an ancient underground tomb.

Today’s adventure took us to nearby Chiusi. A not-so-big, mostly modern town today, it was a powerful Etruscan city in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. The area has a number of Etruscan tombs, and artifacts from them are displayed in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco in town.

As you would guess, since the contents of the museum came from tombs, there were a lot of cremation urns and ossuaries, along with some complete tufo (a kind of rock) tombs painted with battle scenes. It seems that battle scenes were the motif of choice for everyone, male and female alike. The reclining figures on top of the ossuaries were supposed to resemble the deceased, so we could sometimes distinguish males from females, and the scenes on the box were almost always battles. Many looked very similar with only slight variations, and some were identical, made from a mold using terra cotta.

Ossuary in Chiusi Museum

Etruscan ossuary in the Chiusi museum. The reclined figure on top is meant to look like the deceased. Motifs on the box differ but are mostly battle scenes.

Etruscan Ossuary in Chiusi Museum

Another ossuary, this one for a woman, still with a battle scene on the front.

The Romanesque 12th century church in the compact Piazza del Duomo contains pillars and capitals recycled from Roman sites. Incorporating bits and pieces from ancient sites when building something new was common. Inside, trompe-l’oeil frescoes painted in 1887–94 are made with square “dots” to look like medieval mosaics.

Interior of Chiusi Duomo

Interior of Chiusi Duomo.

Again, I’m drawn to the busy patterns and colors that fill the empty spaces between and around story pictures. Note how the patterns are different in each of the arches in the picture below. I love that! Even the ceiling has painted patterns in addition to lovely woodwork.

Details of Chiusi Duomo Interior

Details of Chiusi Duomo interior.

After lunch at Chiusi Lake, we returned to the museum to pick up the guide who would take us to see a couple of the tombs in the countryside. She didn’t speak any English, but we were able to catch enough familiar words or figure-out-able words to understand a lot of what she told us.

Both tombs were underground with stairs leading down. The first is known as the monkey tomb because there’s an image of a monkey painted on a wall. Where on earth did that come from?! Had someone seen one while traveling? Did someone have a monkey as a pet? And it’s such a small part of the tomb, I wonder why it’s singled out in the name. Who decided that? This was an empty tomb in the shape of a cross, with little rooms making up the top and arms of the cross. There were faded paintings on the walls and “benches” along the walls that held the ossuaries, I presume, and maybe other possessions.

The second tomb was called the “Pellegrina” tomb and contained everything as it was found, which amounts to a number of ossuaries, everything else having been looted in earlier times. This is a bigger tomb, with five chambers off a central hall. It housed a number of family members.

Ossuary in Pelegrino Tomb

Ossuary in Pelegrino tomb in Chiusi.

Categories: Italy, Travel

2 replies »

  1. I am preparing to study Etruscan funerary sarcophagi (icons and gestures) via fellowship at the AAR in May and June 2015. Could you give me more information about the ossuary with the veiled female.

  2. Hi, Amy. I’m afraid I don’t have more info about that ossuary other than it was unusual. I’ve checked with my sister-in-law, my art-history guru, and she doesn’t have much to add, either. Since you’re going to study Etruscan funerary sarcophagi, I propose you teach us! I’d love to hear what you learn.