Painted plaques

Etruscan, about 560-550 BC
Found in the Banditaccia cemetery near Cerveteri (Lazio, Italy)

The Judgement of Paris?

These five painted terracotta plaques were found in a tomb in the Banditaccia cemetery in 1874, named the Boccanera tomb after the two brothers who found them. The three central plaques were mounted on the wall at the back of the tomb, and the two sphinxes flanked the inside of the doorway. In Etruria sphinxes are often associated with death and depicted as guardians of the tomb.

It is rare for scenes in Etruscan tombs to depict episodes from Greek mythology, but this one seems to represent the Judgement of Paris. From left to right are shown Hermes, messenger of the gods, approaching Paris with his task, and then the three goddesses Athena, Hera and Aphrodite, from whom Paris had to choose the most beautiful. The four women facing to the right are probably attendants. Paris was to choose Aphrodite, as she had promised him the most beautiful woman in the world. This was Helen of Troy; his decision set off a chain of events which began the Trojan War.

Most Etruscan tomb-paintings are painted directly on to the plastered tomb walls, but these examples painted on terracotta panels represent a more unusual technique. Above is a guilloche pattern, which is also found incised on metalwork, while below are crimson and cream stripes.

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More information


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

L. Burn, The British Museum book of G-1, revised edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

M. Pallottino, Etruscan painting (Geneva, Skira, 1952)


Height: 98.000 cm
Width: 56.000 cm

Museum number

GR 1889.4-10.1 (Paintings 5a);GR 1889.4-10.2 (Paintings 5b);GR 1889.4-10.3 (Paintings 5c);GR 1889.4-10.4 (Paintings 5d);GR 1889.4-10.5 (Paintings 5e)


Excavated by Professor W. Helbig


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