Art Historical Background
The Tomb of the Triclinium is one of three Etruscan artworks in the 250 (the other two being the Sarcophagus of the Spouses & the Temple of Minerva). Ohhhh AND it’s a UNESCO Site!!! Anddddd I got to visit this past winter break. 🙂 Triple nerdy whammy!
As its name suggests, the Tomb of the Triclinium is indeed a “house” for the dead; these tombs are actually called tumuli FYI. The UNESCO Site’s name of “necropolis” actually means “city of the dead.” Most of the stuff left behind from the Etruscan’s is funerary in nature. Makes sense when you know that the Roman literally built their stuff on stop of the Etruscans (who ruled central Italy first) and that things made for the dead are (usually) “meant” to last eternity when things for the living are typically impermanent.
These tombs are subterranean (underground) and partially cut directly into the local tufa (soft volcanic) rock. You approach them via a causeway of sorts called a dromos, this definitely provides some extra drama to the entrance. Once you walk through the dromos you enter into a single chamber filled about the size of a small bedroom with frescos (wall painting) that cover the walls of the tomb. It is these frescos that really land the Tomb of the Triclinium in the 250 and they can reach us about Etruscan life AND death.
Let’s break down these frescos shall we?
Overall the scene is quite lively, there is a banquet with feasting, music and dancing. Not what you would expect from a tomb, huh? There are male (darker-skin) and female (lighter-skin) dancers and musicians on the left and right walls. The musician is playing an instrument similar to a lyre and he’s obviously got quite a good beat because the other people are seriously breaking it down! On the back wall are banqueters enjoying a feast lying on couches very similar to the ones actually in the tomb.
Besides the frescos, the tombs also contains three couch-like structures also cut into the live rock, and this is actually where it gets its name from: tri (three) – clinium (recline on a Mediterranean couch).
Based on other evidence from the Ancient Mediterranean, like pre-classical Greece, feasting for funerals was not an uncommon act like it is today. Party games, music, and good food are all part of the funerary events in the ancient days. In this way, the tomb can teach us much about the costumes and customs of the Etruscan peoples before the Romans bulldozered them over.
The Tomb of the Triclinium is certainly not the only Etruscan tomb, these necropolises are filled with similar tombs also covered in fresco of varying states of preservation. It’s actually super creepy-cute because the tombs are organized in a very town-like manner with public squares and grid-like streets. As mentioned earlier, the Romans destroyed a lot of the material culture of the Etruscans so tombs like these are our only glimpses into their lives, and these necropolises may give us an understanding of how Etruscan towns were laid out.
Want to read more about Etruscan culture in Italy? Day Trip from Florence: Fiesole
- Khan Academy: Tomb of the Triclinium
- UNESCO: Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquinia
- Khan Academy: The Etruscans, an introduction
- UNESCO/NHK: Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquinia (video)
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Etruscan Art
- AP Art History: 32. Tomb of the Triclinium
- AP Art History Go!: 032 – Tomb of the Triclinium
- Roman Art, 6th edition by Nancy H. Ramage & Andrew Ramage: pgs. 39-43 (Architecture: Tombs)
- Ancient History Encyclopedia: Etruscan Tomb Paintings
- Gardner’s Art through the Ages, 15th edition by Fred S. Kleiner: pg. 168 &170
Next Time: #33. Niobides Krater. Anonymous vase painter of Classical Greece known as the Niobid Painter. c. 460–450 B.C.E. Clay, red-figure technique (white highlights).