If you came directly to this page you may wish to read pages on the history and monuments of the town first.
"Etruscan tombs excavated by Signor Mancini" at Crocifisso del Tufo from "George Dennis - The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria - 1878"; you may wish to see the necropolis of Cerveteri and that of Tarquinia
That Orvieto occupies an Etruscan site is abundantly proved by the many tombs opened of late years in the slopes around the city, some containing masonry, others Etruscan inscriptions both on the outer and inner walls - together with painted pottery, both of the archaic and pure Greek style - black ware with figures in relief - ash-chests of stone - statues of terra-cotta - bas-reliefs, painted in the Etruscan style - cippi, both cones and discs, with Etruscan inscriptions (..) Orvieto seems in all ages to have been recognised as an ancient site, but that it was Etruscan has been proved only within this century by the discovery of tombs in the immediate neighbourhood; some opened nearly fifty years since, but the greater part within the last few years. For forty years or more excavations were suspended, but they have recently been resumed at Orvieto, and with great success. (..) In 1871, at the foot of the cliff's beneath the city to the north, at a spot called "Crocifisso del Tufo," a most interesting necropolis was brought to light, unlike any other hitherto found in Etruria. The tombs here disinterred are not hollowed in the rocks, as in most sites in the southern districts of the land, but they are constructed of massive masonry, and arranged side by side, and back to back, exactly like houses in a town, forming blocks of tombs, instead of residences, each tomb having its doorway closed by a slab of stone, and the name of its occupant graven in large Etruscan characters on its lintel. These blocks of tombs are separated by streets crossing each other at right angles, so that we have here a veritable "city of the dead." The masonry is of the local red tufo, in large rectangular masses, generally isodomon, and always without cement. Enter any of the tombs and you see at a glance that they are of high antiquity. (..) These tombs evidently date from before the invention of the arch in Etruria, and therefore, in all probability, are earlier than the foundation of Rome. Some of them are quite empty; others retain a rude bench formed of slabs on which the corpse was laid. Though the block of sepulchres is apparently one mass of masonry, each tomb is really of distinct construction, and can be removed without disturbing its neighbours. Each terminates above in a high wall of slabs, which fences it in like a parapet, and keeps it distinct, inclosing the roof as in a pit. Across this inclosure stretches the masonry which roofs in the tomb, in a double flight of stone steps meeting in the middle in the narrow ridge which tops the whole. (..) In these house-like tombs the dead were almost invariably buried; traces of cremation being extremely rare. (..) The woodcut opposite, taken from a photograph, gives a general view of this necropolis.
The findings at Crocifisso del Tufo and at other necropolises near Orvieto have been so many that the town has two archaeological museums:
Museo Civico di Palazzo Faina and
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Orvieto.
MODU - Museo dell'Opera del DUomo displays works of art from the Cathedral and other churches.
A ceiling of Palazzo Faina with the coat of arms of the family which depicts a "faina" (beech marten)
Most of the produce of Mancini's pickaxe is now stored in the Palace of the Conte della Faina, facing the Duomo - a gentleman whose patriotism and good taste have urged him at a great expense to make a collection of the antiquities discovered in the vicinity of his native town, and whose courtesy leaves it at all times accessible to strangers. I should state that his collection is not confined to Orvieto, but contains also many articles from Chiusi, and other Etruscan sites.
George Dennis - The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria - 1878
The Faina bought in 1855 an existing building, which they had redesigned and redecorated in line with the fashion of the time in a mixture of Baroque and Renaissance styles (see Villa Torlonia in Rome). The collection was gathered by Count Eugenio Faina and his brother Mauro. In 1954 it was bequeathed by Count Claudio Faina to the City of Orvieto together with the palace and other family properties.
Bronze "foculo" (movable brazier - Vth century BC - see a pottery one at Chiusi)
(The tombs contain) bronze figures, vases, and sundry domestic implements - coins - scarabaei - and the thousand and one articles which compose the furniture of Etruscan tombs. Dennis
The Etruscans possessed advanced metalworking techniques (see the Chimera of Arezzo, the Mars of Todi and some unguent containers at Tarquinia). Their techniques spread to other parts of Italy, e.g. to Civita Castellana and Palestrina. The bronze objects found at Orvieto are of a rather archaic style, but some of them impress for their modern design.
A few though not important specimens of bucchero - the early black ware with reliefs - were found here. (..) Third Room. - Bucchero. A portion of this pottery from Orvieto; the rest from Chiusi; including two tall cock-crowned vases. Dennis
The Etruscans developed a unique kind of pottery. Its black fabric was given a glossy appearance by a particular method of firing, which makes the vases resemble bronze ones. Over the centuries its decoration moved from a geometrical one to a more complex one. This type of vases was highly praised and it can be found also outside Etruscan territories, e.g. at Capua.
Kelebe, a type of krater, a vase used for the dilution of wine with water (VIth century BC). It depicts a hero leaving for the war. From Crocifisso del Tufo
Fourth Room. - Figured vases, chiefly kylikes or drinking-bowls, with both black and yellow figures, but the latter in the severe archaic style of the former. Many with eyes. Fifth Room. - Figured pottery Here are examples of almost every style from the early olpe with bands of animals and chimaeras, in the so-called Babylonian style, down to the black lustred vases with floral decorations. Among the vases the following are most noteworthy: - A kelebe with archaic figures in various colours, like the pottery of Corinth. Dennis
Two vases from Crocifisso del Tufo: (left) Dionysus among four dancing satyrs; (right) a woman sitting on a bull between two dancing satyrs
Today the vases of the Faina collection are classified in line with current art history practices. The vases shown above are named as "Leagros" after a group of Attic black-figure vase painters active in the late VIth century BC. The depiction of Dionysus and a procession of his followers (thiasos) was a popular subject in all ancient forms of art, including sarcophagi and floor mosaics. The iconography of Dionysus moved from that of a bearded adult in a long robe to that of a naked young man under the effect of wine.
The majority of black-figured vases now extant date from
the last third of the sixth century, when the red-figured style was
already in vogue. The outstanding artists of black-figure, however Kleitias, Nearchos, Lydos, Exekias, Amasis all date
from about 560 to 530.
J. D. Beazley - Attic Red Figured Vases - 1946
The presence at Orvieto of vases by Exekias, one of the best known painters of black-figured vases testifies to the wealth and taste of the upper class of Etruscan Orvieto. Events of the life of Hercules, horses and chariots were often depicted in Etruscan works of art.
(left) "Venus of the Cannicella", Greek marble of the VIth century BC; (centre) "cippum" of Larth Cupures, Aranthia (son of Aranth) from Crocifisso del Tufo; (right) terracotta antefix from Necropoli della Cannicella
The exhibits now on display at Palazzo Faina are not limited to those of the original collection. A local archaeological museum was founded in the XIXth century to house objects which had been donated to the City of Orvieto or had been found during excavations carried out with public money. In the 1960s the bulk of the local museum was relocated to the National one, but a number of exhibits were placed at Palazzo Faina. They included objects which were found at Necropoli della Cannicella, south of Orvieto, which was discovered in the 1880s and which included a shrine.
On the tomb or by its side, stood a stela or cippum of stone, shaped in general like a pine-cone or a cupola; some of them bore inscriptions, and it was observed that when this was the case, the epitaph over the doorway was always wanting. Dennis
The "cippum" shown above has unusual features because it portrays the face of a warrior inside his helmet which bears an inscription with his name written in Etruscan.
The scanty remaining evidence of the temple does not convey an idea of its ancient aspect. It had a wooden roof which was covered by terracotta tiles. Terracotta antefixes (place before) were commonly put at the end of each row of tiles to strengthen the structure of the roof. The front was covered by terracotta panels to hide the beams and it was decorated with painted terracotta statues (see those at Veii).
If the dead is a man, his body is exposed to just below the navel, and he holds in his hand the sacred patera, or mundum, the round saucer with the raised knob in the centre, which represents the round germ of heaven and earth. (..) And this patera, this symbol, is almost invariably found in the hand of a dead man.
David Herbert Lawrence - Etruscan Places - Published in 1932, but based on a visit made in April 1927.
The deceased is depicted reclining on a couch as if attending his funerary banquet. He holds a patera, a ritual cup (see a very fine one at Agrigento). The reliefs on the box depict two demons (a male on the left and a female on the right), perhaps Charun and Vanth. Many similar sarcophagi have been found in other Etruscan towns, especially at Tuscania.
Sarcophagus from Torre S. Severo (ca 320 BC): side depicting Achilles killing Trojan warriors after the death of Patroclus (Achilles' Wrath); see the same scene in a sarcophagus in Lebanon
Torre S. Severo is located midway between Orvieto and Bolsena. The sarcophagus is decorated on all four sides with scenes from the Iliad and the Odyssey having a link with death. The sarcophagus was most likely placed at the centre of the funerary chamber so that all the reliefs could be seen. The Etruscans were in contact with Greek colonies in southern Italy, e.g. Paestum, where many monuments were decorated with reliefs related to the War of Troy.
Roman coin collection
Sixth Room. - Coins and jewellery. Dennis
Count Mauro Faina gathered a rich collection of Roman coins (ca 3,000 items). They are chiefly bronze and silver coins of the republican and imperial periods. Unfortunately he did not keep a record of the origin of the coins which most likely were bought at the antiquarian market of Rome.
IInd century AD Roman sarcophagi: (above) Museo Faina: a wedding scene (see another sarcophagus with a similar scene and a description of the ceremony); (below) Museo dell'Opera del Duomo: cupids, festoons and masks, a very popular decoration of Roman sarcophagi (see one at Palazzo Barberini)
Poggio del Roccolo. Here in 1863 Signor Domenico Golini of Bagnorea made excavations in a chestnut wood, and opened a number of tombs lying in tiers on the hill slope. Two of them, in the higher part of the hillock, had paintings on their walls, and one, for the novelty and interest of the subjects depicted, as well as for the excellence of the art exhibited, yields to none of the painted tombs yet discovered at Corneto (Tarquinia) or Chiusi. (..) Four domestics or slaves - two of each sex - are busied in various ways at the tables. One of the males is nude, the other, who plays the double-pipes, is half-draped. The women wear tight yellow jackets with short sleeves; one has a white gown also; the other, who seems a superior servant, wears a white mantle, over her shoulder. Both have necklaces of gold; and the latter, red earrings also, of quaint form. Their flesh, like that of all the women in this tomb, is a pale red, while that of the males is of a much deeper hue. In the corner a slave, with a yellow cloth about his loins, is kneading or grinding at a concave tripod table, which has a small lip towards the spectator. He holds in each hand an instrument like that now used for grinding colours; but what his precise occupation may be is not easy to determine, although his surroundings show that in some way or other he is aiding the preparations for the feast. (..) The intense damp of these two sepulchres is fast destroying the paintings. Dennis
In these scenes from kitchen and wine-cellar, where the wood is being chopped, where the cooks are swinging the saucepans or working at the range, where young slaves are struggling with sideboards covered with drinking-vessels, the inscriptions contain the names of the slaves. Men desired to be served in the after-life by the same skilful slaves as in the present, and it was therefore the custom in later times to add the names.
Frederik Poulsen - Etruscan tomb paintings: Their subjects and significance - 1876
The group of Pluto and Proserpine is the most striking in this tomb, the god, who is designated "Eita," or Hades, wears a wolfskin over his head, and sits, wrapped in a dark greenish mantle bordered with red, on an elegant throne, whose legs, left white to represent ivory or silver, are adorned with Greek volutes and honeysuckles. He has a red complexion, and beard of still deeper red, and holds in his right hand a spear, round the end of which is coiled a serpent. He rests his sandalled feet on a high block or footstool. The goddess, who is named "PHERSIPNAI" sits by his side with her bare feet on the same stool. They seem to be in earnest conversation, for their mouths are open, and she looks steadfastly at him as she rests her right hand on his thigh, thus answering the pressure of his left hand on her shoulder. She is of fair complexion and light hair, and wears a golden ampyx on her brow, earrings with triple pendants, and a neck-lace of gold, from which depend large begemmed plaques. On her left hand, in which she holds a sceptre surmounted by a small blue bird, she wears a wedding-ring, with a snake-bracelet on her wrist. Her tunic is yellow, with slashed sleeves reaching to the elbow, and over this she wears a white mantle with a vandyked border of red, which hangs over her shoulder, and descends to her ankles. Her right shoulder, where her white mantle would be lost against the stuccoed wall, is relieved by the usual cloudy background.
(.. ) It is impossible not to be struck with the difference in the art displayed in the two halves of this tomb. In the first part, where the preparations for the feast are represented, the figures are more or less clumsy and awkward, the countenances vulgar. There is a rudeness of common life, entirely opposed to ideality, yet the whole scene is full of life, truth, and individual character. In the other half of the tomb, the design is more correct, the figures more graceful, the attitudes and movements more dignified, the expression more noble. The one half seems the work of a plebeian, the other of an aristocratic hand. Yet there is no reason to doubt that they are contemporaneous works, and even by the same artist, accommodating his style to his subject. Dennis
In 1950 the paintings were detached from the walls and restored at Florence before being placed in reconstructed tombs at the National Archaeological Museum of Orvieto. A similar process took place for some tombs of Tarquinia.
(left) Terracotta acroterium from the shrine of Necropoli della Cannicella; (right) small terracotta statue from Tempio del Belvedere depicting Hercules
The acroterium, a decoration at the top of the front, portrays Orestes killing Clytaemnestra, his mother, one of the most gruesome episodes of the Greek myth. One wonders why it was placed at the top of a temple, but according to Aeschylus, Orestes was eventually acquitted of his crime thanks to the casting vote of Athena. The scene was also depicted in sarcophagi, e.g. in Spain.
Kylix(es) from Crocifisso del Tufo
A kylix was a wine-drinking cup. Because the cup was filled with wine the painted decoration at its centre was not immediately visible. The drinker "discovered" it only when the cup was almost empty, something which explains why some of the subjects had an erotic nature. See a highly decorated kylix from Tarentum in southern Italy and another one with an erotic painting at Civita Castellana.
Antefixes portraying a satyr and a maenad, both followers of Dionysus from Tempio del Belvedere
The collections of the National Archaeological Museum complement those at Palazzo Faina.
Vases from Crocifisso del Tufo: (left) made by a local workshop and depicting a demon; (right) Hercules fighting the Amazons (ca 520 BC)
Opera del Duomo was the foundation in charge of the construction of the Cathedral and it is still in charge of the maintenance of the building.
Madonna with Child and bronze angels holding a canopy which stood in the lunette above the central portal of the Cathedral (attributed to Lorenzo Maitani - early XIVth century)
The group was very damaged especially because the bronze canopy increased the impact of heat on the marble statue and therefore it was replaced with a modern copy. Records indicate that the bronze parts had been gilded by Luca Signorelli in 1501 when he was working at the frescoes of Cappella di S. Brizio. Giuseppe Valadier in ca. 1800 applied a greenish paint to the marble statue to make it resemble bronze. Also the arms of the Child are not in their original location. It is likely that the central part of the Madonna was sculpted making use of an ancient statue.
St. Ambrose (left) and St. Jerome (right), original 1388 mosaics by Piero di Puccio from the fašade near the rose window
St. Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan in 374-397 and he has always been portrayed wearing the mithre (see some paintings in the historical section of the website). The iconography of St. Jerome (347-420) varied over time; he spent two years as a hermit in a desert between Antioch and Aleppo and in some XVIIth century works of art he was portrayed as an almost naked old man, e.g. by Caravaggio at Valletta and by Camillo Mariani at S. Bernardo alle Terme. At Orvieto he was portrayed as a Renaissance savant, similar to what was done by Mino da Fiesole at S. Maria Maggiore and by Francesco Laurana at Palermo in 1469, because the image of the Doctor of the Church (Jerome was one of the most learned men of his time) prevailed over that of the hermit.
Inlaid wood lectern from the choir
The choir was ornamented with panels which were executed by a team of wood inlayers from Siena in ca 1330-1370. Many of the panels are lost or were poorly restored (a surviving one can be seen in the image used as background for this page). The elaborate lectern was decorated with inlays portraying the Twelve Apostles on a starry blue background.
Antonio Federighi (d. 1483) was an architect and sculptor from Siena who was superintendent of Opera del Duomo in 1451-1456. In 1448 he spent some time in Rome and studied its ancient monuments and in particular their decorative patterns, He made use of what he had learnt when he completed Cappella di Piazza del Campo. The holy water basin was most likely made by one of his assistants at Orvieto; the exterior was decorated with a motif from Basilica Ulpia whereas the fish and other sea creatures in the interior are a typical early Christian subject (see a IVth century mosaic at Aquileia), although derived from earlier patterns.
(left) St. Michael the Archangel by Matteo di Ugolino (1356) from the fašade (it has been replaced by a copy); (centre) angel by Raffaello da Montelupo from the interior of the Cathedral (see the similar statue he made for Castel Sant'Angelo); (right) St. Simon (1714) gypsum model by Bernardino Cametti (see a chapel designed by Cametti at S. Marcello)
The statue of St. Michael strikes for the extreme detail of its decoration from the armour to the wings. Renaissance bronze sculptors were very often also goldsmiths and silversmiths (e.g. Benvenuto Cellini), but the statue of St. Michael was placed at such a height that the skill of the sculptor could not be appreciated.
The angel by Raffaello da Montelupo shows the influence of ancient statues which were discovered in Rome in the early XVIth century on Renaissance sculptors.
Bernardino Cametti was commissioned with the last two statues of the Apostles for the interior of the Cathedral (you may wish to see other statues of the Apostles which were made at the same time for S. Giovanni in Laterano).
Small statues (left to right): Madonna and Child (school of Nicola Pisano ca 1270 from the Cathedral); assistant to the priest holding a thurible (from the 1285 Monument to Cardinal Guillaume de Braye by Arnolfo di Cambio in S. Domenico); Madonna and Child from the Cathedral by Andrea and Nino Pisano (1346); Jesus holding the Eucharist wafer from the Cathedral by Nino and Tommaso Pisano (1347)
Pisano means from Pisa and not all the Pisano sculptors belonged to the same family. Nicola Pisano (d. 1284) is best known for his works at Pisa, Siena and Perugia. Nino and Tommaso Pisano were the sons of Andrea Pisano who was superintendent of Opera del Duomo in 1347-1348. Arnolfo di Cambio (d. ca 1302-1310) is said to have been involved in the very early design of the Cathedral (see one of his works in Rome).
IXth century relief from SS. Severo e Martirio
Marble screens were used in early churches to separate the altar from the nave. The finest screens came from Constantinople, e.g. those at S. Clemente; when the ties between Italy and the Byzantine Empire were loosened by Charlemagne, local workshops had the opportunity to develop new patterns, e.g. at S. Sabina. At Orvieto, in an overall geometric decoration based on crosses, an unknown sculptor depicted a bunch of grapes and a bird picking it, two subjects which were typical of the decoration of early Christian churches, e.g. of S. Costanza.
Panels of a polyptych by Simone Martini aka Simone Senese (1284-1344) from S. Domenico; it portrays St. Mary Magdalene, St. Dominic, St. Peter, the Virgin Mary and Child and St. Paul and it is dated 1320. Bishop Trasmondo Monaldeschi who commissioned the polyptych is portrayed in the panel of St. Mary Magdalene; in origin it had at least seven panels
Orvieto greatly relied on artists from Siena for the decoration of its churches, especially during the XIVth century when Rome was no longer an artistic centre because the Popes had moved to Avignon.
(left) Central bronze door of the Cathedral made by Emilio Greco in 1962-1964; (centre/right) Palazzo Soliano (section of the museum dedicated to the sculptor who passed away in 1995): gypsum cast of the Monument to Pope John XXIII in S. Pietro; other statues by him