Alabaster cinerary urn with reclining figure on lid

Etruscan, about 200-100 BC
From Chiusi, Etruria (now in Lazio, Italy)

Luxurious in death

This once richly-painted cinerary urn (container for the cremated remains of the dead) reflects the Etruscan love of banqueting. A favourite pastime in life, it seems to have been what they most liked to envisage themselves doing in the afterlife. This type of cinerary urn was very popular from the fourth century BC onwards, and tomb-paintings from the sixth century frequently depict banqueting with lavish entertainment provided by acrobats and dancers. It was perhaps this passion which gave rise to the Roman historian Livy's stereotypical view of the obesus etruscus ('fat Etruscan'): certainly from the corpulent appearance of the portraits in their tombs they were proud to display their obesity, which was probably felt to indicate their wealthy status and luxurious style of living.

The deceased man wears a cloak, a festive garland round his neck and a wreath on his head, comfortably leaning on two tasselled cushions. He holds a shallow vessel of a type normally used for pouring liquid offerings (omphalos phiale), but it seems that the Etruscans may have used it at banquets. Perhaps, though, it is shown here as it was thought to be a suitable drinking-vessel for the deceased in the afterlife. The inscription names the man as Vel Umrana, son of Arnth. It is written retrograde (right to left) as normal with Etruscan inscriptions.

The scene on the chest possibly represents Eteokles and Polyneikes, the sons of Oedipos, in battle before the walls of Thebes, a popular theme in classical art. However, the uprooted tree is unexplained: it was perhaps involved in an Etruscan form of the legend.

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More information


E. Macnamara, The Etruscans-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

L. Bonfante (ed.), Etruscan life and afterlife: a (Michigan, Wayne State University Press, 1986)


Height: 57.000 cm (lid)
Length: 85.000 cm (lid)
Width: 41.000 cm (lid)
Height: 57.000 cm (lid)
Length: 85.000 cm (lid)
Width: 41.000 cm (lid)

Museum number

GR 1850.10-31.1 (Sculpture D 40-1)


Gift of H.P. Hume Campbell


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