The Etruscans and the voyage towards the Afterlife

A Journey beyond life. The Etruscans and Afterlife through masterpieces and virtual reality” is an exhibition held inside the Museum of theCity in Bologna (c/o Palazzo Pepoli) in collaboration with Villa Giulia National Etruscan Museum in Rome.

It is an innovative exhibition on this important population of the Italic peninsula which came first and inspired so much the Romans. The latter ones inherited as a matter of fact the concept and the visual imagery of the Afterlife. According to the new discoveries the Etruscan vision of the life after death is not dark and obscure, negative and mournful, but it is full of hope and symbolism.

1_La tomba della nave

The tomb of the Ship: named after the scene depicted on the left wall, comes from the Necropolis in Tarquinia, discovered in 1958. The paintings are clearly readable and all focus on the same theme, the voyage to the Afterlife across a sea fraught with danger, ending with a rich banquet.

2_interno tomba della nave da Villa Giulia_Roma 3_interno tomba della nave

In the Stele A from the Necropolis of Bologna the same topic is approached in a different way: the deceased crosses over the Afterlife on a cart pulled by two winged horses, in a dimension of salvation guaranteed by the presence of symbols of the God Dionysius.


The Felsinean stones, richly decorated with figurative scenes, are the most important monuments for reconstructing the city’s funerary ideology and representation of the voyage of the deceased to the Afterlife. The monuments are exhibited in the first hall of the Museum of Bologna on the permanent part of the exhibition. Here you can see a different way of burying the dead: inhumation instead of cremation. Both the burial techniques were used in the Etruscan society.

The steles revealed many details of the deceased. For example, it is worth noting that a number of Etruscan tombs carry funerary inscriptions in the form “X son of (father) and (mother)”, indicating the importance of the mother’s side of the family.

Eventually this voyage towards the Afterlife should not be easy but rather difficult, assisted and guided by demons, but in the end the deceased will arrive at a serene place much like that imagined by Homer, the poet of the Epic Cycle and by Hesiod, the author of Theogony and Shield of Heracles around the same time as Homer.

In the second room the exhibition focuses the attention on the Etruscans’ representation of the sea and of marine creatures. The Etruscans saw the sea as a “boundary space” surrounding the outer rim of the world, separating that which is known and human from that which is “other”. After death the deceased must cross this mysterious, dangerous space on the way to the Afterlife, travelling on sea creatures, on a boat (sometimes guided by Charon), or, often, by diving into the sea, a metaphor for the transportation that takes place with death.

But only in some case this destiny is quite different: when the merits of the deceased, his military and political power are so important that they save him from the destiny of the normal men, and so he climbs god-like to a holy seat on a cart pulled by divine animals.


A very powerful and moving masterpiece is for the first time featured in a spectacular virtual reconstruction. The eleven-minute Sarcophagus of the Spouses installation is the subject of a fascinating four-part story reconstructing the history of the sarcophagus and its ideological significance in an innovative for of narrative designed for today’s audiences. The spectacle combines projections on the walls of the room (using 3D mapping technique) with hologram reconstructions in a special case.

7_sarcofogo virtuale

To conclude: the clone of the sarcophagus. One of the world’s best known Italian design brand, Italdesign Giugaro, presents a truly  exceptional project at the exhibition: a clone of the Sarcophagus of the Spouses, a perfect replica made under the direct supervision of Giorgetto Giugaro. The manufacture, weighing 154 kg, will promote an educational initiative based on tactile exploration for blind and sight-impaired visitors.

How smartly dressed were the Etruscans!

The portrayal of a married couple sharing a banqueting couch is uniquely Etruscan; in contrast, Greek vases depicting banquet scenes reflect the custom that only men attended dinner parties. The smiling faces with their almond-shaped eyes and long braided hair, as well as the shape of the feet of the bed, reveal Greek influence. However, the marked contrast between the high relief busts and the very flattened legs is typically Etruscan. The Etruscan artist’s interest focused on the upper half of the figures, especially on the vibrant faces and gesticulating arms.

9_clone del sarcofago degli sposi di cerveteri

A museum and an exhibition not to be missed: the last date will be 22 February 2015, so contact me soon to arrange the guided tour.



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