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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa

Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa

Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa

The Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa is the life-size sarcophagus of an Etruscan noblewoman dating from 150 BC and is a masterpiece of Etruscan artwork. The deceased woman’s name is inscribed in Etruscan along the base of the chest. She was part of a wealthy aristocratic family and is dressed sumptuously, wearing an ornate gown and cloak, with drapery over her body and adorned with a tiara, earrings, bracelets and a necklace. Seianti is depicted as a mature woman, who is adjusting her veil to show her body. She leans against a pillow and holds a mirror in her other hand, gazing into the distance.

This brightly painted Etruscan sarcophagus was discovered in 1886 with the contents of a skeleton and some grave belongings. Scientific analysis of the bones and teeth indicated that Seianti probably died at about 50–55 years of age. The idealized face of the deceased woman depicted on the sarcophagus was typical of Etruscan art at the time.

Sarcophagus

A sarcophagus is a box-like funeral receptacle for a corpse and was usually created to be displayed above the ground. The word sarcophagus is derived from a combination of Greek words that mean “flesh-eating stone.”

Etruscan Civilization

The Etruscan civilization is the name given to a powerful and wealthy culture from ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio. Distinguished by its unique language, this civilization endured from before the time of the earliest Etruscan inscriptions (c. 700 BC) until its assimilation into the Roman Republic, beginning in the late 4th century BC.

In the 7th century BC, the early Etruscan culture was influenced by Ancient Greek culture. Archaic Greece culture significantly influenced their art and architecture, and Greek mythology was familiar to them. In their heyday, the Etruscan elite grew rich through trade with the Celtic world to the north and the Greek settlers to the south and filled their large family tombs with imported luxuries.

Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa

  • Title:                 Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa
  • Date:                150 to 140 BC
  • Culture:           Etruscan
  • Medium:          Moulding/terracotta and paint
  • Discovered:   1886 – Poggio Cantarello near Chiusi in Tuscany
  • Dimensions:  Length: 183 cm (72 in); Height: 117 cm (46 in)
  • Museum:        The British Museum

Collections of the British Museum

Ancient Egypt and Sudan Collection

Middle East Collection

Ancient Greece and Rome Collection

Britain, Europe, and Prehistory Collection

Asian Collection

Africa, Oceania and the Americas Collection

The Prints and Drawings Collection

Information on The British Museum

Reflections

  • Etruscan art was heavily influenced by Greek art but always retained distinct characteristics, especially in terracotta sculpture. What makes this terracotta sculpture uniquely Etruscan?
  • Her two-thousand-year-old jewelry comprises a tiara, earrings, necklace, bracelets, and finger-rings, do they vary significantly from modern jewelry?
  • Sarcophagi sculptures made a return to the cemeteries of America during the last quarter of the 19th century. Did discoveries such as this ancient Sarcophagus influence this trend?

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“Who knows most believes least.”
– Etruscan Proverbs

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Photo Credit: [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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