Eternal Personae: Chiusine Cinerary Urns and the Construction of Etruscan Identity

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2014

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Art History & Archaeology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Portraiture is a vital topic of art historical discourse, and portraiture in Etruscan art is usually studied as a stylistic predecessor to the Roman veristic tradition and not within its own cultural milieu. Portraiture, as a physical manifestation of personal identity, must be considered in relation to its social context in order for its artistic form to be understood fully. Identity is expressed not only through visual convention, but also through aspects of performance and interaction. This dissertation reframes the discussion of the Etruscan "portrait" as a performative representation of identity, illustrated through a study of Hellenistic cremation urns with figural lids produced at the site of Chiusi.

This study is the first of its kind to engage in a focused, quantitative and qualitative analysis of Chiusine urn lid figures and their attributes. Large-scale studies have focused primarily on the inscribed names of the deceased on each urn, or the urn boxes and their attributes, whereas this investigation considers the largest corpus (over 800) of Chiusine urn lids to date. While the reliefs on the boxes demonstrate the Etruscan understanding and incorporation of myth into funerary contexts and the inscriptions provide demographic information and illustrate changes in the language over time, the lid figures reveal how the Etruscans chose to portray themselves in death.

Although changes in Etruscan society during the Hellenistic period are evident in the funerary environment, the form and placement of cinerary urns and their lid effigies illustrate remarkable continuity in the Etruscan understanding of the afterlife. A case study approach investigates a range of burial environments at Chiusi in order to identify broader Etruscan priorities in the treatment of the dead, as well as variations among family members in a single tomb or between different necropoleis. Using ethno-anthropological and archaeological approaches to the study of non-Western and prehistoric cultures and the construction of identity, this dissertation seeks to identify a more nuanced concept of identity and representation in the Hellenistic period. The cinerary urns are not singular objects; they serve as integral components of a dynamic funerary environment. In this context, the importance of the lid effigy does not lie in its physical resemblance to the deceased. Through aspects of performance, interaction, and visual convention, these urns maintain the deceased's personhood in the afterlife, an identity that relates to familial relationships and active participation in important social practices.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Susan I Rotroff

Committee Members

William Bubelis, Francesco de Angelis, Nathaniel Jones, John Klein, William Wallace


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