Canopic jar

Etruscan, about 625-600 BC
From Chiusi, Tuscany, Italy

To hold the ashes of the dead

This anthropomorpic (human-shaped) vessel was a container for the ashes of an Etruscan who lived in the seventh century BC. The lid is made in the shape of the head, and in some later examples the handles are replaced by rudimentary arms, which occasionally have hands attached, made out of bronze sheet. The type of vessel is so called because of its resemblance to Egyptian canopic jars.

The holes around the face were probably for the attachment of a mask, and these jars were probably the earliest Etruscan attempt to give individuality to representations of the human form. In fact they form the beginnings of portraiture, long before it was attempted by the Greeks. The mask may have been made of painted stiffened linen, and hair was perhaps also added to the head.

The urns are placed on chairs which are typically Etruscan. Sometimes the chairs for the urns were made out of bronze, the most elaborate ones being decorated with scenes in relief.

Chiusi was an important city in north-eastern Etruria, with many tombs cut into the adjacent sloping hillsides. Over the centuries many different types of container were produced to hold the ashes of the city's dead. Later examples included hollowed stone statues, urns carved in the shape of a temple or house, and stone or terracotta chests with a panel of relief decoration on the front and a figure of the deceased reclining on the lid.

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More information


O. Brendel, Etruscan art, Pelican History of Art (Yale University Press, 1995)

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

J. Swaddling (ed.), Italian Iron Age artefacts in, Papers of the Sixth British Museum Classical Colloquium (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)


Height: 18.000 inches
Height: 18.000 inches

Museum number

GR 1853.6-4.1 (Vases H 245)



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