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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria

by George Dennis

published by John Murray, Albemarle Street
London, 1848.

The text is in the public domain.


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 p401  Chapter LIII


Molta tenent antiqua, sepolta, vetusta.


                          — già furo
Incliti, ed or n'è quasi il nome oscuro.


These headings of the author's are used here as local links to text on this webpage.
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Etruscan sites around Chiusi Cetona Museo Terrosi Painted ash-chests Sarteano Etruscan urns in the Museo Bargagli Etruscan collections of Dr. Borselli and Signor Lunghini Tombs of Sarteano and Castiglioncel del Trinoro

The hills to the west of Chiusi are rich in Etruscan remains. The several towns of Cetona, Sarteano, Chianciano and Montepulciano are supposed, from the positions they occupy, and the mines of ancient wealth around them, not from any extant remains of fortifications, to indicate the sites of so many Etruscan cities. It is certain at least that in their environs are ancient cemeteries yielding the most archaic relics of Etruscan times. He who visits Chiusi should not omit to extend his tour to these towns, for they are all within a trifling distance of that city, and of each other; and should he feel little interest in their antiquities, he cannot fail to be delighted with the glorious scenery around them. He may make the tour of the whole in a day, for the roads are very respectable.

Cetona is only five or six miles from Chiusi — a clean little town, and a picturesque, on an olive-clad height, with a ruined castle of feudal times towering above it. Moreover, it has a decent locanda, kept by Alessandro Davide, where bright eyes will look brighter when the traveller comes.

 p402  The Etruscan antiquities now visible at Cetona are all contained in one house, that of the Cavaliere Terrosi, who has drawn most of these treasures from a spot called Le Cardetelle, in the valley of the Astrone, half way between Chiusi and Cetona. This gentleman's collection is not very large, but very select — the choicest produce of his excavations. Here are some beautiful specimens of the black pottery of this district — the tall, cock-crested jars, focolari, and other articles in the old rigid style of Clusian art; among which a fine goblet of the rare form called carchesion, with a band of figures in relief, is conspicuous. There are painted vases also, chiefly in the archaic style, with black figures on a red ground.

But the gems of this collection are two ash-chests. One, on which reclines a female figure, with patera in hand, on a cushion that was once coloured blue, bears in the relief below an armed warrior, seized by two figures in human shape, but with the heads of a pig and of a ram. A draped female, who seems to have the warrior's sword in one hand, stands behind him, and lifts a rod over his head with the other, while round the same arm is entwined a serpent. Another female, whose attributes mark her as a Fury, stands at the opposite end of the scene. A second warrior is sinking to the ground in death. It is not difficult to recognise in this scene the attempted enchantment of Ulysses by Circe.​1 The drapery on these figures bears traces of pink colouring.

 p403  The other cinerary urn is the best preserved Etruscan monument of this character I remember to have seen. The relief shows a female without wings, but with a hammer and the other usual attributes of a demon, sitting on an altar, with her arm about a naked youth. On each side a man, with a Phrygian cap and a light robe, stands with drawn bow, threatening the life of the youth. A child sits weeping at the foot of the altar, and a female figure in an attitude of grief, with hands clasped on her lap, sits on the other side of the demon. It is difficult to explain this scene. It may represent the slaughter of Penelope's suitors — the chaste queen being portrayed in the weeping female, if this be not Euryclaea, her nurse; and the two archers being Ulysses and Telemachus.2

The interest of this urn lies not so much in the subject of the relief, as in its high state of preservation, and its peculiar adornments. The necklace, chaplet, zone, and anklets of the genius are gilt; so also the chaplet of the youth, and the Phrygian cap of the warrior; and the drapery of the whole is coloured a rich purple. The recumbent figure on the lid is that of an elderly man, and his chaplet of oak-leaves, his long and thick torque, his signet-ring, and the vase in his hand, are all gilt; while  p404 the cushion of which he reclines and the drapery on his person are purple. These colours are perfectly fresh, and are set out brilliantly by the pure white alabaster of the monument. The effect of the whole is very rich; and as the sculpture is not of a high order, the colour does not impair the ideality. It is the best specimen of polychromy, applied to sculpture, that is to be seen in Etruria.

A just value is set on this relic, for it is carefully preserved in a glass case.

The Cavaliere is most courteous to strangers, and permits his treasures to be freely inspected. Those with Cockney tastes will find somewhat in his grounds to delight them.

Another relic of classical antiquity to be seen at Cetona is a statue of marble, the size of life, recently discovered among some Roman ruins near the town. It represents a philosopher or poet, sitting, half-draped, in an attitude of contemplation, and is evidently of Roman times.​3 It is in the possession of Signor Gigli.

If Cetona be an ancient site, we have no clue to its original name; the earliest record we have of it being in the thirteenth century of our era.4

From Cetona to Sarteano there are but four miles, and the road is full of beauty. It ascends a steep and lofty height covered with wood, and from the summit commands a magnificent view over the vale of the Chiana — Cetona nestling at the foot of the mountain which bears its name, a mighty mass of hanging woods, in winter all robed in snow​5 — La Pieve with its twin towers, like horns bristling  p405 from the brow of the long dark hills which stretch up from the south — Chiusi, nearer the eye, on a rival height — the intervening valley, with its grey and brown carpet of olive and oak woods — the lakes gleaming out bluely in the distance — and the snowy Apennines billowing along the horizon.

Sarteano stands on the brow of an elevated plateau, overhanging the valley of the Chiana.​6 It is a place of some importance, fully as large as Chiusi, surrounded by walls of the middle ages. The inn, kept by a dame of the ethereal name of Serafina, but of substantial a frame as an hostess could desire, is more respectable than might be expected in a district so little frequented by foreign travellers; but this range of hills is much resorted to by the Tuscans in the hot season, both as a retreat from the burning heat of the low grounds, and for the sake of its mineral waters.

At Sarteano there are three foci of interest to the antiquary — the collections of the Cavaliere Bargagli, the Dottor Borselli, and Signor Lunghini.

The first of these gentlemen has some choice urns, found on his estate at a spot called Le Tombe, near the banks of the Astrone.

One represents in its relief Hippolytus attacked by the sea-bull, which Neptune sent against him, and which caused his horses to take flight, so that they dashed him and his chariot to pieces —

littore currum

Et juvenem monstris pavidi effudêre marinis.

 p406  A female demon or Fury, holding a torch, bestrides the fallen youth, and a warrior seems about to attack her, sword in hand.7

There is a very good urn with the trite subject of Eteocles and Polynices. The moment, as usual, is chosen when the brothers are giving each other the death-wound. A Fury rushes between them, not to separate them, but to indicate her triumph over both; she sets her foot on an altar in the midst, and extinguishes her torch.​8 This urn is worthy of notice, as having on the lid, beside the usual recumbent figure, which is here a male, a little child also, caressing its father.

Another relief represents Orestes in Tauris; and indicates the discovery by Iphigenia, that the stranger she is about to sacrifice to Diana, is her own brother. Orestes, naked, sits weeping on the altar; she, also naked, stands leaning on his shoulder in deep dejection. Pylades is being disarmed by a warrior, to be subjected to the same bloody rite; and the female attendants of the priestess fill up the scene. The execution of this relief is admirable.

Another scene, where two young warriors are slaying an old man and seizing a maiden, must represent the death of Priam and rape of Cassandra. A female demon, as usual, is in at the death.

These urns, with others, fourteen in all, were found in one tomb, and the inscriptions show them to belong to the family of "Cumere."​9 The door of the tomb was closed  p407 by a large tile, bearing the same name; it is also in this collection. The discovery of a sepulchre of this family in the neighbourhood has led some to regard Sarteano as the site of the ancient Camars, without sufficient reason,​10 though the very archaic character of the pottery found in its tombs proves the existence of Etruscan habitation at a remote period.11

Dr. Borselli has a collection of vases; some painted, but most of the black ware of this district. Among the early pottery are canopi, both in black and coloured ware; and there is also a round urn of stone in the shape of an Egyptian female's head, with a conical cap for a lid; in it was found a bronze pot containing the ashes of the dead. Of the painted pottery, the best articles have been sold of late years, but a few of merit remain.12

Signor Lunghini possesses a large collection of Etruscan pottery, both painted and in the usual black relieved ware.​13 The most remarkable are two of those tall and very rare vases, commonly called holmi,​14 a good specimen  p408 of which decorates the Gregorian Museum. They are about three feet high, and are composed of a bowl-shaped vase, resting on a stand. Whether for containing the ashes of the dead, or for perfumes I cannot tell; but the lid is pierced for the escape of effluvium. One of these vases is painted with numerous figures of men and animals in separate bands; the other is of black ware with decorations in relief. Both are evidently of very early date.

But the most singular article in this collection is an urn of stone in the form of a little temple or small dog-kennel, with a high-pitched roof. Each side displays a scene in very low relief. First is a death-bed — the corpse covered with the shroud — children on their knees in attitudes of grief — wailing-women tearing their hair — subulones drowning their cries with the double-pipes. On the opposite side is a race of trigae, or three-horse chariots; and at the ends are banqueting-scenes — the feasting and sports attending the funeral. On the ridge of the roof at each end is a lion couchant — the symbolic guardians of the ashes. The urn rests on the bodies of two bulls with human, or rather fauns', heads,​15 representing either river-gods, or, more probably, Bacchus Hebon, —

Semibovemque virum, semivirumque bovem.

This monument is an excellent specimen of the very early and severely archaic style of Etruscan sculpture.16

So rich is the soil around Sarteano in Etruscan treasures, that in the ordinary processes of agriculture articles  p409 are often brought to light, and the various proprietors of land come into the possession of antiquities without the trouble of research. In the hands of Gaetano Bernardini, a shopkeeper of Sarteano, I saw some very curious bronzes; indeed this necropolis is hardly less abundant in metals than in pottery.

Most of these relics are found near the Madonna della Fea, about a mile to the west; others also at a spot called Solaja, in the same direction; but the most archaic pottery is found still further, towards Castiglioncel del Trinoro, a wall-girt village, with the ominous alias of de' Ladri, or, the Robber-hold, three miles from Sarteano, towards Radicofani.17

The Author's Notes:

1 Who may be the dying warrior is not obvious. Dr. Braun suggests it may be Eurylochus who brought the hero word of his companions, though he was not slain on this occasion. He might be introduced merely for the sake of the composition, were it not that the Fury seems expressly to indicate his death. Ann. Inst. 1842, p48; Bull. Inst. 1843, p61. Sozzi (Bull. Inst. 1842, p18) took this scene for a Bacchic dance. Micali (Mon. Ined. p310) confesses his inability to explain it. An illustration of the urn is given in Ann. Inst. 1842, tav. d'Agg. D.; and by Micali, op. cit. tav. XLIX.

2 This is Dr. Braun's opinion. Ann. Instit. 1842, p48 tav. d'Agg. E. He elsewhere suggests that the demon on the altar may be Proserpine. Bull. Inst. 1843, p61. He acknowledges that Telemachus is not so represented by Homer; but Etruscan versions of Greek myths generally differ more or less from those which are received. Though there are no corpses represented, he thinks that the demon sufficiently indicates the work of destruction. Who the youth under her protecting arm may be, and what the child weeping at her feet may mean, it is most difficult to conjecture. Micali (Mon. Ined. p309) sees in the female, Penelope caressed by the insolent suitors, one of whom tries in vain to draw the bow, when Ulysses seizes his weapon and takes his revenge. But the relief will not admit of this interpretation. Sozzi (Bull. Inst. 1842, p19) takes the demon for Proserpine striving to keep the soul of Alcestis from Hercules. This urn is illustrated by Micali, Mon. Ined. tav. XLIX.

3 See Bull. Inst. 1843, p153, for further notices of this statue.

4 Repetti, I. p678. For notices of the excavations on this site see Bull. Inst. 1839, p50; 1842, p17. At Palazzone, six miles south of Cetona, many Etruscan relics have recently been discovered.

5 Monte Cetona rises 1957 braccia, or about 3751 feet, above the level of the sea. In this mountain, says Repetti, we find verified the fable of Janus, who looks with one face at the regions of Vulcan, with the other at the realm of Neptune; for though it rises in the midst of hills covered with marine substances, it gives vent on every side to sulphureous vapours and hot springs, which have completely incrusted its base; while at a few miles' distance, rise the lava-cone of Radicófani, and the trachite of Montamiata, I. p683.

6 Sarteano is only five miles from Chiusi; the road is excellent. About half-way is a hill, called Poggio Montolo, where painted tombs are said to have been discovered.

7 This urn is polychrome — the flesh of the men, the horses, the flame of the torch, are all red; the drapery, the shield, and other parts of the relief bear traces of yellow.

8 She has wings on her brows, a serpent round her neck, blue wings to her shoulders, and red buskins. The armour and weapons also of the warriors are painted.

9 The name is found also with the inflexions of Cumeresa, Cumerusa, Cumerunia. Lanzi gives other Etruscan sepulchral inscriptions with the names of Camarina, Camurina, and Camas, which last he would read Camars. Saggio, II. pp376, 399, 434.

10 Cervetri might as reasonably be supposed the site of the ancient Tarquinii, because the Tomb of the Tarquins is in its neighbourhood. Lanzi (II. p451) thinks Sarteano may be traced in the Etruscan name, "Satria."

11 For notices of the urns in the Museum Bargagli, see Bull. Inst. 1836, pp30‑32 (Sozzi); 1840, pp151‑2 (Braun).

12 An amphora, with Hercules leading Cerberus (here with but two heads) and followed by Minerva, — a celebe, with a warrior receiving a goblet from a female, in very good style, — a similar vase, with athletae exercising, — a patera, with naked youths at the bath, holding strigils, — a scyphos, with Fauns, Maenades, and sphinxes. There were formerly in this collection some beautiful vases with mythological subjects — the deeds of Theseus, and Prometheus delivered from the vulture by the arrows of Hercules. There was also a seat or curule chair of pottery, with bas-reliefs; much resembling the beautiful marble throne of the Palazzo Corsini at Rome. For notices of this collection, as it was a few years since, see Bull. Inst. 1840, pp148, 149, 153.

13 On the painted pottery are scenes from the Trojan War — the deeds of Hercules — Europa and the bull — Minerva caressing a horse — fauns feeding the ass of Silenus — fauns pursuing Bacchantes — chariot-races — sacrifices, &c. Here are also some minute cups and saucers, and other toys in pottery — the furniture of a child's sepulchre.

14 The holmos was also the flat or (p408)hollow plate placed on a tripod, as the seat of the Pythia when she delivered her oracles.

15 These heads are like that shown in the wood-cut at page 358 of Vol. I. This is a figure found on many bronze coins of Neapolis of late date; and is supposed to represent either Bacchus Hebon, the divinity of Campania, or Sebethus, a rivulet near that city, or Achelous, or some other river-god. Ann. Inst. 1841, p133.

16 For a notice of this urn, see Bull. Inst. 1846, p162.

17 The tombs of Sarteano are all hollowed in the rock, as usual. They are very simple, without decorations, and have generally but a single chamber, which, when of great size, is supported by a rock-hewn pillar in the midst. Micali, Ant. Pop. Ital. III p10. None remain open for inspection.

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