the etruscan seated banquet. villanovan ritual and etruscan iconography

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  • The Etruscan Seated Banquet: Villanovan Ritual and Etruscan IconographyAuthor(s): Anthony S. TuckSource: American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 98, No. 4 (Oct., 1994), pp. 617-628Published by: Archaeological Institute of AmericaStable URL: .Accessed: 10/02/2011 02:55

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  • The Etruscan Seated Banquet: Villanovan Ritual and Etruscan Iconography


    Abstract The banquet was one of the most popular and con-

    sistent funerary motifs in ancient Etruria. The earliest banquet scenes depict people sitting, whereas later representations show banqueters reclining on couches. By examining these primordial seated banquet scenes, we see the representation of an already cogent iconog- raphy. The deceased is either depicted at a meal or ancestor figures are shown welcoming the newly de- ceased to the banquet. The characterization of the de- ceased at a meal is a funerary theme that also finds expression in the earlier tomb groups of the Villano- van period. It is argued here that new foreign artistic models of enthroned figures are adopted and manipu- lated in the Orientalizing period because they could be used to express a preexisting funerary theme of the deceased at a meal.*

    The renewal of contact and trade between Etruria and the eastern Mediterranean during the Orien- talizing period brought new goods and materials flooding into the region. Craftsmen working in met- al, ceramic, and other materials quickly assimilated foreign forms and motifs into their own production repertoire. It is within this crucible of social change that Etruscan culture emerged in its fully developed form.

    It is important to understand this not only as a revolution, but also an evolution. The exposure to and adoption of various artistic motifs certainly had a profound effect on the material culture of the peo- ple we today categorize as Villanovan, but these are changes in means and modes of expression. As Ridgway has put it, "any degree of indigenous eth- nic unity that underlines the Villanovan culture must be attributed to the Etruscans themselves in the Iron Age phase of their development."'1

    In the midst of abundant evidence for the impact of eastern contact, however, the effect of any Villanovan "indigenous ethnic unity" on the devel- opment of many Etruscan practices is often over- looked. It is reasonable to assume that many ele- ments of distinctive Villanovan cultural unity would find new means of expression in later Etruscan con- texts. While the form of expression may be new, the cultural continuity between the Villanovan and Etruscan periods is illustrated by the consistency of expressed themes. One element of this cultural con- tinuity may be found in funerary contexts with the thematic expression of the meal of the dead. In or- der to assess the impact of Villanovan ritual on early Etruscan banquet scenes, it is helpful to examine some of the earliest depictions of funerary banquets found in Etruria.

    De Marinis has noted that representations of ban- queting in Etruscan art initially show people sitting, while in later representations funerary banquets are depicted with individuals reclining on couches.2 The earliest surviving depiction of such a funerary seated banquet in Etruscan art takes the form of an attached plastic scene found on the lid of a biconical cremation urn known as the Montescudaio urn (figs. 1-2). The urn is generally dated to ca. 650-625 B.C., based on the rendering and style of the hu- man figures and the plastic geometric decoration on the body of the urn, although some scholars place it slightly later.3 It was found just outside the town of Montescudaio, near Volterra, at the beginning of this century. In the scene, a figure is seated on a chair in front of a round tripod table. To the left of the seated figure is a standing female attendant.

    * I owe an enormous debt of thanks to many people for their suggestions and support, especially Gloria Pinney, Brunilde Ridgway, and Jean Turfa for their insightful comments and criticisms of an earlier draft of this paper. I am also very grateful to R. Ross Holloway, Rolf Winkes, Martha S. Joukowsky, Erik Nielsen, and Mary P Tuck for their willingness to discuss many problems and suggest revisions. The AJA reviewers, Larissa Bonfante and Rich- ard De Puma, were also extremely helpful in pointing out pertinent issues that I had neglected and suggesting valu- able corrections. Special thanks are owed to Jen Rowley, Tony Kugler, Michael Smith, Michele Kunitz, and Anne

    Leinster for their support and friendship. ' D. Ridgway, The First Western Greeks (Cambridge 1992)

    127. 2 S. De Marinis, La tipologia del banchetto nell'arte etrusca

    arcaica (Rome 1961) 114. 3 H.D. Anderson, "The Etruscan Ancestor Cult-Its

    Origin and Development and the Importance of Anthro- pomorphization," AnalRom 21 (1993) 31; E Magi, "L'os- suario di Montescudaio," Atti del primo simposio italiano (Rome 1969) 127-28 n. 25, suggests a lower date at the end of the seventh or early sixth century B.C.

    617 American Journal of Archaeology 98 (1994) 617-28

  • 618 ANTHONY S. TUCK [AJA 98

    Across the table is a high footed olla and a scar where another element was attached, either an- other vessel or perhaps a chair for a second ban- queter.4

    A representation of a seated banquet scene slightly later than the Montescudaio urn comes from the Tomb of the Five Chairs at Cerveteri, dated to the final third of the seventh century on the basis of the form of the rock-carved tomb.5 According to Prayon's reconstruction, a terracotta figure was originally placed on each of the five rock-carved thrones in a side chamber of the cruciform tomb (figs. 3-4). Two stone tables, carved from the rock, were located in front of the chairs. To complete this arrangement, Prayon further reconstructs a large basket and libation table and a rectangular base that was used for two additional cylindrical thrones.6

    Of the five figures, three are male and two are female, which is interesting since many later repre- sentations of reclining banquets depict women re- clining with men. Erroneous early reconstructions of the figures placed the two surviving female heads onto two of the three surviving torsos.' The fibula form worn by all three torsos suggests that they be- long to males.8 All exhibit what Bonfante describes as a "ritual pose."9 The left arm is hidden beneath a cloak or shroud and only the hand is visible. The right arm extends outward with the palm upturned. The fragmentary seated figure on the Montes- cudaio urn may be reconstructed as gesturing in the same way. Once again, we see this gesture on a late sixth-century funerary stele from Fiesole with two scenes of banqueting (fig. 5).10 The upper register has a scene of a reclining banquet while the lower scene shows two people sitting at a table with the figure on the right side extending his right arm with palm upturned toward the figure on the left side.

    There are, however, scenes of people sitting and eating that do not utilize this gesture. On a bucchero chalice from Pienza" decorated with an impression from a cylinder seal as well as some cylinder seal impressions illustrated by Micali12 we see figures,

    Fig. 1. Montescudaio urn, full view. (After E Nicosia, StEtr 37 [1969] pl. XCIIIc) seated on campstools or chairs, eating and drinking. While the ceramics decorated with these scenes probably come from tomb contexts, there is no rea- son to assume that they were specifically produced

    4 E Nicosia, "I1 cinerario di Montescudaio," StEtr 37 (1969) 389, believes another olla occupied this position; Magi (supra n. 3) 126 believes the position was occupied by a cylindrical throne for another banqueter.

    5 E Prayon, "Zur Datierung der drei friuhetruskischen Sitzstatuetten aus Cerveteri," RM 82 (1975) 166.

    6 Prayon (supra n. 5) 166-67. 7 L. Bonfante, Etruscan Dress (Baltimore 1975) 150. 8 Bonfante (supra n. 7) 150. 9 Bonfante (supra n. 7) 95. 10 A. Rathje, "The Adoption of the Homeric Banquet in

    Central Italy in the Orientalizing Period," in O. Murray

    ed., Sympotica (Oxford 1989) 285, mentions several exam- ples of Chiusine grave stelae that depict two banquet scenes, one reclining and one seated, presumably similar to the stele from Fiesole. She says, however, only that she learned of them from Kyle Phillips and mentions no bibli- ography.

    1 M. Monaci, "Catalogo del Museo archeologico vescovile di Pienza," StEtr 33 (1965) pl. XCIb.

    12 G. Micali, Storia degli an