If you came directly to this page you may wish to read an introduction to this section first.
(left) Porta Lavinia, formerly "a la vigna" (to the vineyard); the street leading to it stands on the site of the "cardo maximus", the main north-south street of the Roman town; (right) Column erected in 1581 to celebrate Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany; Chiusi was part of the Republic of Siena until 1555 when it was conquered by Cosimo de' Medici, father of Francesco
I must transport my reader to the little town of Città della Pieve within the Roman frontier. He will have no reason to regret the change of scene. He will find himself on a lofty height, commanding a wide, deep valley, with many a slope and undulation, among which "sweet Clanis wanders Through corn, and vines, and flowers." (Lord Macaulay - Horatius). (..) Chiusi, once the proud capital of Porsena, crests an olive-clad eminence on the right; and on the other hand is a long range of wooded heights studded with towns (..) and all nestling beneath the majestic Alpine mass of Monte Cetona. (..) The frontier is crossed in the valley below Chiusi. (..) Since the draining of the Val di Chiana, she has risen from her low estate, and though she no longer holds her head proudly among the cities of Italy, she has an air of snugness and respectability, with two or three thousand inhabitants, and an inn, the Leon d'Oro, of more than ordinary bye-road comfort.
George Dennis - The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria - 1848
Excursion to Chiusi - An excellent road of 7 m. leads from Citta della Pieve to Chiusi; first, by a rapid descent of 4 m. into the Plain of the Chiana, in the centre of which is the frontier between the Papal and Tuscan states. Passports and baggage are not examined until arriving at Chiusi.
John Murray - Handbook for travellers in central Italy - 1853
The traveller, on going northward, leaves the volcanic district at Orvieto. The region of plain and ravine is behind him; that of undulation before him. (..) The nearest towns of importance in this direction are Città la Pieve, about 28 miles, and Chiusi, 31 miles distant, both accessible by the railroad, and both of Etruscan interest.
George Dennis - The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria - 1878
In 1859 - 1861 the process of unification of Italy led to the disappearance of the border across Val di Chiana and Chiusi and Città della Pieve became part of the Kingdom of Italy. In 1875 the route of the Florence-Rome railway was significantly shortened by the opening of a new section across Val di Chiana which made Chiusi within easy reach from these cities.
Palazzo dei Conservatori: Sala degli Orazi e Curiazi: Porsenna and Mutius Scaevola who punishes his right hand for having failed to kill the king (1613 fresco by il Cavalier d'Arpino)
Chiusi is the representative of Clusium, the city of the magnanimous Porsena, one of the most ancient in Italy, among the Twelve of the Etruscan Confederation. (..) Its original name was Camars, whence it has been inferred that it was founded by the Umbri, the earliest inhabitants of Etruria. Whatever its origin, it is certain that from a very remote age it was a city of great might and importance, and that it maintained this condition throughout the period of Etruscan independence. Though Virgil represents it as assisting Aeneas against Turnus, the earliest notice of it that can be regarded as historic is that it sent aid to the Latins against Tarquinius Priscus. We hear no more of it till the Tarquins, on their expulsion from Rome, induced Porsena, its king or chief Lucumo, to espouse their cause. That war, its stirring events, its deeds of heroism (Horatius, Scaevola, Clelia, and Publicola), are among the cherished memories of our boyhood, and need no record here. (..) In what year Clusium fell under the Roman yoke is not recorded; (..) Clusium, with the other cities of Etruria, assisted Rome in the Second Punic War, supplying the fleet of Scipio with corn, and fir for ship-building. More than a century later Sylla defeated an army of his foes near Clusium, which, it is probable, had joined others of the Etruscan cities in espousing the cause of Marius. Dennis 1848
Ancient walls near the Cathedral
No Etruscan site has more general interest than Chiusi. On some this centres in walls; on others, in tombs; on these, in museums; on those, in historical associations. Chiusi combines all, though not to an equal extent. Her weak point is her fortifications; but for this she makes amends by her mysterious underground passages. Of her ancient fortifications some fragments are extant, but these are not sufficiently abundant or continuous to determine the precise extent or limits of the city. Where still standing, they form the foundations of the mediaeval walls. The fragment of most easy access is beneath the Duomo. It is composed of rectangular blocks of travertine, a few of large size, but generally small and shallow - all without cement. Another portion of the ancient walls is to be seen beneath the Prato, or public promenade. This is also of travertine, of similar and rather more regular masonry; but still of small blocks, rarely exceeding three feet in length, and never so much as two in height. It can be seen from the Giardino Paolozzi, adjoining the Prato. (..) The style of all these fragments is very similar to that of Perugia and Todi, and very unlike that of the more northern cities - Fiesole, Volterra, or Cortona, the blocks being much smaller and the courses more uniform. Dennis 1848
(left) Giardino Forti formerly Paolozzi; (right) a sphere of stone resting on a cube and other ancient stones
Beneath the Paolozzi garden, which seems the site of the ancient Acropolis, and is still called La Fortezza, are some buttresses of Roman work, under which are also a few courses of the earlier, or Etruscan masonry. In the garden is a so called "Labyrinth." The mere word brought to mind the celebrated Tomb of Porsena, described by Varro as existing at Clusium, and I eagerly rushed into the cavern. To my disappointment it was merely a natural hollow in the rock, of some extent, but without a sign of labyrinthine passages. But in the cliffs of this very height, immediately beneath the Palazzo Paolozzi, are some singular subterranean passages, running far into the heart of the rock, yet being half filled with water they have never been penetrated. (..) The only passage I saw was hollowed in the sandy rock, and rudely shaped into a vault; the marks of the chisel being very distinct. Rumour says there are many other such passages; the whole city, indeed, is supposed to be undermined by them, and by subterranean chambers, though what purpose they may have served is a mystery no one can fathom.
(..) One entrance to these underground "streets" is near the church of San Francesco. Another is on the Piazza del Duomo. In 1830, in lowering this Piazza, four round holes, .2 feet in diameter, were discovered, and they were found to be for lighting a square chamber, vaulted over with great blocks of travertine, and divided by an arch. It was nearly full of earth, but in it were found a large flask of glass, fragments of swords, pieces of marble, broken columns. About 100 feet distant was another light-hole, giving admission to a second vault, about 27 feet deep, but so large that its extent could not be ascertained. In the Bishop's garden, closed to the Piazza, another subterranean chamber, very profound and spacious, was opened, and on one side of it was a small well. (..) Under the house of the Nardi Dei is also known to be a passage, opened forty or fifty years since; and it is said that a reverend prelate ventured to penetrate it, but found it so labyrinthine, that had he not provided himself with a clue, he would never have seen again the light of day. It is by some pretended that these subterranean passages form part of the Labyrinth of Porsena. (..) They are much more probably connected with the system of sewerage; and the subterranean chambers may have been either cellars to houses or favissae (underground storerooms) to temples. However, the idea of a labyrinth has been connected with such passages, for more than a century past. Dennis 1848
Today the underground passages house a collection of inscriptions and cinerary urns (Museo Civico La Città Sotterranea) and the so-called Labyrinth of Porsenna (Museo della Cattedrale).
(left) Bell tower; (right-above) fragments of an inscription; (right-below) ancient decorative stone and a Roman inscription in houses along the main street
Chiusi retains few traces of Etruscan times on her site, beyond the contents of her museums, drawn from the sepulchres around.
There are many relics of early days, scattered through Chiusi. Fragments of architectural decorations built into the houses. Over a well in the main street is a sphere of stone resting on a cube, with a sphinx, in a quaint style, carved on each side. On Signor Paolozzi's gate are two similar monuments, with lions instead of sphinxes. Dennis 1848
The scattered fragments explain the disappearance of the ancient monuments of Clusium; its temples, like those of Rome, were no doubt destroyed to build the churches and other edifices of the modern city. Murray
Chiusi is an episcopal town of 2200 souls, but its vicinity to some of the marshy districts of the Val di Chiana renders it at times unhealthy. (..) The Cathedral has been evidently constructed with the ruined fragments of ancient edifices. Its nave is divided from the side aisles by 18 antique columns of unequal size, and even the tomb containing the ashes of St. Mustiola, to whom the building is dedicated, is formed out of an ancient column. On the walls of the arcade on the Piazza del Duomo numerous fragments of Roman as well as Etruscan workmanship occur. Murray
The Cathedral was redecorated with mosaics in the early XXth to emphasize its resemblance with the basilicas of Ravenna. Some of the columns have a pulvino, a piece in the form of a truncated pyramid which is typical of Byzantine architecture.
Cathedral: (above) IVth century mosaic; (right) medieval relief (now at the side of the entrance)
Inscriptions prove Clusium to have continued in existence under the Empire, nor does she seem, like too many of her fellows, ever to have been utterly desolated or deserted, but has preserved her name and site from the remotest antiquity to the present day. Yet so fallen and reduced was this illustrious city in the middle ages, principally through the pestilent vapours of the neighbouring lakes and marshes, that for eight centuries and more, says Repetti, she might be called "a city of sepulchres." Dennis 1848
The Cathedral was most likely built on the site of a Roman house because recent excavations brought to light a floor mosaic with the name of the landlord (Parthenius Macharius). Chiusi never lost its role as episcopal see, even when its population was very small. Today its diocese is united with those of Pienza and Montepulciano.
Chiusi is even cited by Dante, as an instance of the melancholy decay of cities: "Se tu riguardi Luni (*) e Urbisaglia / come sono ite e come se ne vanno / Di retro ad esse Chiusi e Sinigaglia, / Udir come le schiatte si disfanno / Non ti parrà nova cosa né forte, / Poscia che le cittadi termine hanno. Dennis 1848.
"If Luni thou regard, and Urbisaglia, / How they have passed away, and how are passing / Chiusi and Sinigaglia after them, / To hear how races waste themselves away, / Will seem to thee no novel thing nor hard, / Seeing that even cities have an end."
Dante - Paradise - XVI, vv. 73-78 - Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Dante wrote his poem in the early XIVth century, yet the rather large church of S. Francesco was built a few decades earlier on the site of a previous one, so Chiusi was still a town of some importance.
(*) A town in Tuscany, near today's Carrara. The Romans called Lunense its white marble.
Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Chiusi (Archaeological Museum of Chiusi)
Chiusi, unluckily for the sight-seer, has not its Etruscan relics gathered into one public Museum, but scattered in numerous private collections. By far the largest and most important is the property of Signor Ottavio Casuccini. Next to his ranks that of Signor Paolozzi; and these two alone have a permanent character, the others varying from year to year, increased by fresh discoveries, or diminished by sales. The collections of miscellaneous character are those of the Conte Ottieri, Don Luigi Dei, the Signori Luccioli and Ciofi. Those of Capitano Sozzi and Signor Galanti are now in the "Gabinetto," in the high street. The bishop has a number of choice vases, and the canons Pasquini and Mazzetti, and the arch-priest Carducci, besides the ordinary articles, are rich in scarabaei. None of these collections are difficult of access. A request from a stranger will meet with prompt attention, and he will be received with all that courtesy and urbanity which distinguish the Tuscan character.
As all, or most, of these gentlemen are willing to part with their treasures, no offence will be given by inquiring the prices of the articles.
Those travellers who are interested in Etruscan antiquities will hardly fail to find friends, particularly among the learned ecclesiastics and resident land-owners, who have done so much to preserve and illustrate the sepulchral and other monuments of the city. Murray
Museo Civico Chiusino. Open everyday at the visitor's pleasure. Admission half a lira; besides a small fee to the custode. This Museum has been formed within the last few years, since the sale of the Casuccini collection. It comprises the greater part of the Paolozzi collection, together with the vases formerly in the possession of the Bishop of Chiusi, and the urns from those tombs which have recently been closed. The painted vases and bronzes are exhibited in a separate building. All the other articles are crammed into two rooms. Dennis 1878
In 1901 the collections were relocated to a new building which was designed by architect Giuseppe Partini.
(left) Bust of Emperor Augustus as Pontifex Maximus; (right) pedestal of a statue (IVth century AD)
The first object that strikes the eye on entering is an excellent marble bust of Augustus, with the skirt of his toga covering his head - dug up in the Bishop's garden. Dennis 1878
Since 1878 the collections of the museum have been enriched and the way they are displayed has been modified. Thanks to Dennis' detailed descriptions many exhibits which attracted his interest can be easily identified in the current set up. The significance of the bust of Augustus was made clear in 1910 when a statue of the Emperor as Pontifex Maximus was found in Rome.
The small Roman section of the museum includes the pedestal of a statue; its inscription makes reference to "L. Tiberius Maefanas Basilius, of egregius rank, former praetor of the Fifteen Peoples, defender of the council and citizens, decurialis of the eternal City; because he governed faithfully and with integrity his citizens and the people of Clusium, cherished them with love, raised them through generosity, fostered them with his kindness. And so, as a reward for his good deeds, everyone, at the urgent request of all, have offered (this statue)". It testifies to the importance of Chiusi in the IVth century AD.
(left) Sphinx; (right) travertine "cippus" with a relief of dancing women and a syrinx above it
Fetid limestone is a yellowish brittle material, much used in the most ancient monuments of this district. (..) Etruscan statues in stone, be it observed, whether sitting or standing, are extremely rare, most of those extant, being either of bronze or of terra-cotta. (..) Here is a large winged sphinx of that material, having her hair clubbed behind the head, in the archaic style, and she served the purpose of a tombstone. From this Museum the traveller will learn that the tombs of Chiusi and its neighbourhood yield articles more singular, quaint, and archaic in character, than those of any other part of Etruria, with the exception of Veii and Caere. Among these early monuments of Etruscan art are several of the square or round pedestals of cippi, sometimes supposed to be altars. They are almost invariably of the fetid limestone, peculiar to this district. Their interest lies in being among the earliest and most genuinely national works of the Etruscan chisel. Though not all of the same epoch, a characteristic archaicism is always preserved: the figures are in very low, almost flat relief, and with a strong Egyptian rigidity and severity. The style, in fact, may be said to be peculiar to these monuments, and in some measure may be owing to the material, which would not admit of the finish and delicacy of the high reliefs in alabaster and travertine. The subjects are also purely national - religious or funeral rites and ceremonies - public games - scenes of civil or domestic life - figures in procession, marching to the sound of the double-pipes, or dancing with Bacchanalian furor to the same instrument and the lyre. There is no introduction of Greek myths, so frequently represented on the sepulchral urns. (..) Another cippus of round form, and of travertine, is in a later style, but bears a similar subject - women dancing to the sound of the syrinx. It now serves as a pedestal to the large sphinx, already described. Dennis 1878
(left) Marble "cippus" (Vth century BC); (right) another "cippus" with a relief portraying a satyr (left) and a gathering of citizens (right)
These pedestals, I have said, are generally of fetid limestone, but here, in the inner room, is one of marble, proving that material to have been occasionally used by the Etruscans at a very early period. It had a sphinx couchant, but now headless, surmounting the cube at each angle. The scene below is in low relief, and shows a dance of women, four on each side, moving briskly to the music of the lyre and double-pipes. All wear the tutulus, the head-dress of Etruscan women in the earliest times, with tunics reaching half way down the leg, and heavy mantles, and in their attitudes as well as drapery, betray a very primitive style of art. Dennis
(left/centre) Archaic cinerary urn, very similar to one described by Dennis; (right) illustration from Dennis' book depicting an Etruscan vase in the possession of Theodore Fry, Esq., of Darlington
The principal objects in pottery and bronze pertaining to this Museum of Chiusi are (..) in an upper room, which teems with ceramic and toreutic treasures. But your eye is at once arrested by a strange monument of unbaked, un-coloured clay, which surmounts a glass case in the centre of the chamber. It is of so uncouth and extraordinary a form, that it requires some minutes' study to resolve it into its component parts. You then perceive that it is a large pot or jar, from the lid of which rises a female figure of some size, of most archaic character, with her arms attached to her body by metal pins, with one hand raised to her mouth as if she were kissing the tips of her fingers, and the other holding a piece of fruit. A long tress of hair falls on each side over her bosom, and the rest is clubbed together behind her head, and descends quite to her heels, terminating in an ornament like a huge ring and tassel. Her chiton, which is open in front, is covered, both before and behind, with small square compartments recessed, so as to form a sort of check pattern incised. She rises like a giantess from a circle of eleven Lilliputian females, standing on the lid, like herself in miniature, similarly draped, tressed, and clubbed, and all with their hands on their bosoms; and lower still, ranged around the shoulder of the jar, stand seven other figures, similar in every respect, alternating with the heads of huge snakes or dragons, with open jaws. (..) The jar itself is a sepulchral urn, and contained the ashes of the lady whose effigy stands on the lid; her body is hollow, and the effluvium passed off through a hole in the crown. This most remarkable monument was discovered by Signer Galanti, in 1842, at a spot called Il Romitorio, about two miles from Chiusi to the N.W. It was found in one of the well-tombs, itself inclosed in a large jar. It stands about three feet in height. Though its details find analogies elsewhere in Etruria, as a whole it is unlike any other monument now to be seen in that land, and in the uncouth rudeness of its figures and their fantastic arrangement, you seem to recognise rather the work of New Zealand or Hawaii, than a production of classical antiquity. I have said that this urn is unlike anything now to be seen in Etruria. But a monument very similar in character, though differing in the details, is in the possession of Theodore Fry, Esq., of Darlington, who has kindly allowed me to illustrate it by a woodcut. I have not seen the urn, but from Mr. Fry's description I learn that it is rather smaller than that in the Chiusi Museum, being only thirty inches in height, and having only eight women or griffons in the upper tier, and twelve in the lower. (..) The body, as in the Chiusi monument, is hollow, and the cock or bird fits with a peg into the hole in the crown. The pot was purchased at Florence, but was said to have been found at Chiusi. Dennis 1878
In this collection are some curious specimens of Canopi, or head-lidded jars, which are almost peculiar to this district of Etruria. They are of the same full-bellied form as those of Egypt, but always of pottery, instead of stone or alabaster; and they are surmounted, not by the heads of dogs or other animals, but always by those of men, or what are intended for such. The jar itself represents the bust, which is sometimes further marked by nipples, and by the arms either moulded on the jar, or attached to the shoulders by metal pins. These are all cinerary urns, and there is a hole either in the crown, or at each shoulder, to let off the effluvium of the ashes. The heads are portraits of the deceased. (..) The style of art indicates an archaic period. They are generally in the black ware of this district, but a few are of yellow clay. The eyes are sometimes represented by coloured stones. Some have been found resting on stools of earthenware; others placed in small chairs, (..) these are probably curule chairs, indicative of the dignity of the defunct, whose ashes were deposited in the vase. (..) There is more than one case of bronzes - vases - mirrors, figured, and some gilt, two with ivory handles - idols - candelabra, and sundry other articles; among which notice (..) a canopus of this metal in a curule chair of the same, all in hammered work, the plates being fastened together with big nails, but the head is of terra-cotta, and does not seem to belong to the body. Dennis 1878
The inner room contains a few good specimens of bucchero, the early and coarse black ware of Chiusi and its neighbourhood, which is peculiarly Etruscan (see some bucchero pottery at Cerveteri). The great antiquity and oriental character of this ware cannot be questioned, although there is reason to believe that it continued to be manufactured thru'oughout the period of Etruscan autonomy. Tradition indeed among the Romans appears to have assigned such pottery as this to the earliest days of the City, and to royal use. (..) Other pieces of this black ware of a late date have a metallic varnish, bright as if fresh from the potter's hands. Dennis 1878
Black ware "foculo" (see a bronze one at Orvieto)
Here are also several of the so-called focolari, which resemble tea-trays more than any other utensil of modern times.
The word indicates a small fire thus the foculo was most likely a portable brazier; in the tombs however other small objects were placed in it, as if it were a tray.
(left) Black-figure vases depicting a chariot and Achilles and Ajax playing at dice (see the same subject in a vase from Vulci); (right) detail of a red-figure cup depicting Dionysus in his initial iconography
Not all the pottery in this collection is of the archaic, un-Hellenic character already described. There are specimens of figured vases and tazze in the various styles of Etrusco-Greek art. For while Chiusi has a pottery peculiar to itself, it produces almost every description that is found in other Etruscan cemeteries. (..) It must be admitted, however, that the painted ware of this district is by no means so abundant, or in general so excellent, either for clay, varnish, or design, as that of some other Etruscan sites, though occasionally articles of extreme beauty are brought to light. (..) In the glass case are some choice figured vases. Among them is an amphora in the Second style, showing Achilles and Ajax playing at dice, with Pallas fully armed standing behind them in the centre of the scene. The reverse shows Dionysiac revels. Another amphora in the same style, shows a quadriga on each face. (..) The vases presented by the Bishop occupy another glass case. Most of them are of the Third style, with red figures. Dennis 1878
A glance round this Museum will show that the Etruscans of Chiusi were wont to burn rather than to bury their dead. The cinerary urns are most numerous, surrounding the outer room in a double tier, but of sarcophagi there are but three or four examples. At the further end of the room are two large sarcophagi of marble, one with a male, the other with a female figure, reclining on the lid. Dennis 1878
The most important monument of Etruscan antiquity newly acquired by the Museum of Florence is a large sarcophagus from Chiusi which was discovered in 1877, with a female figure of life-size reclining on the lid, the interest of which lies not in the beauty of her form, which is deficient in symmetry, her legs and arms being of unequal length, but in the admirable illustration it presents of the costume and decorations of an Etruscan lady of rank. (..) This monument glows with colour, and shows us not only the dress but the very hues and patterns that were in fashion in Etruria at the period to which it belongs. Thie lady who is here effigied was named "Larthia Seianti S " i.e. of the family of Sejanus, the latter part of the designatory inscription being illegible. Her eyes and hair are brown, and a fillet of yellow flowers circles her brow, spotted with red and green, probably to represent rubies and emeralds. She wears a white talaric chiton, with short sleeves, and decorated with a vandyked border of Tyrian purple round the neck and shoulders, and also round the bottom of the skirt but showing also a broad longitudinal stripe of the same purple on each side of her body down to her very feet. Her himation is also white, with a deep purple border, and a girdle of gold cloth, studded with rubies, is tied beneath her bosom, terminating in tassels of the same. Her sandals are also of purple, with soles of gold, and an emerald clasp between the first and second toe. She wears earrings, necklace and brooch of gold, with a Medusa's head in the last, a bracelet and armlet in a double chain of the same metal studded with rubies on her right arm, with which she is drawing her veil forward; but she wears no rings on that hand. Her left hand, however, in which she holds a mirror, or more probably tablets, circled with a gold beading, is laden with rings, a massive one on her thumb, one also on the first and last finger respectively, none on the middle, but two on the wedding finger, both of large size and set with rubies. Her figure displays no gilding, the gold in every case being represented by yellow paint. She reclines on two cushions, the upper being yellow, to represent cloth of gold, with purple stripes, and a deep gold fringe; the lower of purple, with narrow white stripes, and a purple fringe. Her urn is decorated with bastard Ionic columns, alternating with bossed phialae (ancient Greek vessels) and sunflowers, which glow with red, yellow, purple and green in all their original brilliancy. This monument is perhaps the finest specimen of Etruscan polychromy yet brought to light. Dennis 1878
The sarcophagus was found in 1886 in another tomb near Chiusi. The British Museum bought it in 1887 from Wolfgang Helbig, Director of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome, who in that year left his post to deal in antiquities and act as a procurer of antique art for various constituencies in Europe. The sarcophagus contained a well-preserved skeleton of the noblewoman who must have belonged to one of the wealthiest families of the town. Studies of the skeleton came to the conclusion she was middle-aged and obese when she died.
The sepulchral urns of Chiusi are usually of travertine, or sandstone; (..) they frequently retain traces of colour, both on the recumbent figures on the lids, and on the reliefs below. (..) I shall have some regard for my reader's patience, and confine my descriptions to a few of the most remarkable ones. These urns of Chiusi have not frequently subjects from the Greek mythical cycle. Yet such are not wanting. (..) Here are some of the favourite subjects, variously treated - Paris kneeling on an altar and defending himself against his brothers - the mutual slaughter of the Theban brothers - Pyrrhus slaying Polites - combats of Greeks with Amazons, some of spirited design - Centaurs carrying off women. (..) Many of these urns display combats, often at altars, sometimes, it may be, representing a well-known event in classic mythology sometimes, an ordinary contest between warriors without any individual reference, or illustrative of some unknown native tradition. (..) The ministers of death are generally represented at such scenes, ready to carry off their victims, or rushing in between the combatants. (..) Charun, with his mallet, plays a conspicuous part, and is often attended by a female demon with a torch; as in a scene where they are leading away a soul between them. These demons have occasionally neither wings, buskins, nor anything but the attributes in their hands to distinguish them from ordinary mortals. This Museum in truth, is an excellent school for the study of Etruscan demonology. Dennis 1878
Mythological creatures: (left) "cippus" with a sea-monster; (right) cinerary urn with female centaurs (see this relief on the façade of Palazzo Buccelli of Montepulciano)
Marine monsters are not wanting - sea-horses - dolphins - hippocampuses; but the favourite is Scylla, here, wielding an anchor in each hand, as if combating an invisible foe; there, armed with an oar, contending with Ulysses and his companions. She is sometimes winged, sometimes not; always with a double fish's tail. Nor is there any lack of terrestrial monsters - griffons, centaurs, and strange chimeras - Gorgons' heads, winged and snaked, sometimes set in acanthus leaves. In one such instance the head is flanked on each side by a female Centaur in the act of rearing, who grasps a leaf in one hand, and is about to hurl a large stone with the other. Dennis 1878
Terracotta cinerary urns: all the dead hold a "patera", a ritual cup (see a very fine one at Agrigento and the lid of a cinerary urn which was found near Castiglione del Lago)
Round the walls are many cinerary urns of terra-cotta, found in abundance in the tombs of Chiusi. They are miniatures of those in stone, being rarely more than twelve or fifteen inches long, but the figures on the lids are not often reclining as at a banquet, but generally stretched in slumber, muffled in togas. Dennis 1878
Cinerary urns depicting the fight between Eteocles and Polynices, the sons of Oedipus who killed each other, between two Vanths (see identical cinerary urns at Cortona)
Indeed these terra-cotta monuments seem in general of a better period of art. There is not much variety of subject on these urns, which seem to have been multiplied abundantly from the same moulds. The mutual slaughter of Polyneices and Eteocles, and Jason or Cadmus vanquishing with the plough the teeth-sprung warriors, are the most frequent devices. These little urns were all painted, both the figure on the lid, coloured to resemble life, and the relief below; many retain vivid traces of red, blue, black, purple and yellow. Dennis 1878
Cinerary urn portraying the dead with a long necklace and a large finger-ring
A few of unusually large size are even in a sitting posture, decorated with very long and elaborate torques, and with finger-rings, which for size might be coveted by Pope or Sultan. (..) The art displayed in these large figures is superior to that usually seen in the urns of stone. Dennis 1878
Illustrations from Dennis' book showing paintings at Tomba della Scimmia (Monkey-Tomb)
The tombs of Chiusi which are kept open for the visitor's inspection are not, as at Tarquinia, on one side of the city, but lie all around it, some several miles apart; and as the country tracks are not easily travelled on foot after wet wealth, it would be well, especially for ladies, to procure beasts in the town. Dennis 1848
It would be useless to enter into a minute account of the various tombs which lie scattered over the hills around Chiusi. They do not occur in a necropolis, as in other Etruscan cities, but are found among the neighbouring heights, excavated mostly in the hillside, and entered by a level passage in the slope. They are often at some distance from each other; for which reason they are best visited on horseback. Murray
In the Poggio Renzo, or La Pellegrina, an oak-covered hill, about a mile from Chiusi to the north-east, a tomb was discovered in March, 1846, by Signor Francois, which was decorated with paintings of verv early date, and singular interest. It is generally designated the "Monkey-Tomb". (..) The central chamber is surrounded by a band of figures, thirty inches high, representing palaestric games. (..) On one of the side walls are a pair of wrestlers, in even more difficult attitudes than in the other tombs - an agonothetes, standing by to see fair play - two men on horseback apparently racing, - another black- bearded dwarf, with a paddle- like leaf on his shoulder, who is being dragged forward by an athlete, bearing a similar leaf, apparently with the wish to instruct him in gymnastics, to which the little man naturally shows much reluctance. Dwarfs and monkeys are associated in our minds ; and so apparently in those of the Etruscans. Here, amid the athletes sits an ape chained to the stump of a tree, from which new branches are sprouting. He has no apparent relation to the scene, and it may be that, like the dwarfs, he is introduced to fill an awkward space under the projecting lintel of a door. On the opposite wall are a pair of naked pugilists, boxing with the cestus, holding one hand open for defence, the other closed for attack; their robes on a stool between them. - A Pyrrhic dancer, in yellow armour - helm, cuirass, greaves, Argolic shield, and wavy wand, with which he seems to be striking his shield; his helmet has the two long cockades, so often represented on painted vases. - A naked figure, who seems to have been hurling a long straight lance, having a looped cord attached to it, is taking a flask of oil or wine from a boy, who also carries a bough. A dwarf with a black beard, and wearing a tutulus and chaplet, is teaching the double-pipes to a youthful subulo of fair proportions, who has the capistrum bound round his cheeks. It is impossible not to be struck with the medieval character of much of this scene. It requires no great exercise of the imagination to see a castle-yard in the days of chivalry. There is the warden with his horn, the minstrel with his lyre, the knight in armour, the nun with her rosary, the dwarfs and monkeys - and even some of the other figures would not be out of place. Yet the style of art, bearing a resemblance to that of the earliest tombs at Corneto, proves this to have been one of the most ancient of the painted tombs of Chiusi, and four or five centuries before the Christian era. Dennis 1878
Reconstruction of Tomba delle Tassinaie (IInd century BC)
This tomb was discovered in 1866 and it has been recently reconstructed inside the museum based on drawings which were made at the time of the discovery. The square chamber was dug in the sandstone and it had side benches.
Alabaster lid of the cinerary urn of Larth Sentinate Caesa which was found in 1928 at Tomba della Pellegrina
The statue of Larth Sentinate Caesa, most likely of the IInd century BC, portrays a young womanish man, perhaps because of the influence of Hellenistic patterns in the depiction of some gods, e.g. Apollo and Dionysus.
The making of a Roman floor mosaic was a result of teamwork; in general mosaics had a large decorative, often geometric, frame surrounding a small section with figures (emblema) which was executed by a more skilled artisan who received a higher remuneration. Early archaeologists did not pay attention to floor mosaics until 1752 when Giuseppe Alessandro Furietti, a prelate, published De Musivis, a book on the mosaics he had carefully excavated at Villa Adriana. Initially however only the emblema were thought to have an artistic value and the geometric parts of the floor mosaics were destroyed or left to rot.
The Longobards established an important Duchy at Spoleto in 570. The Byzantines however retained control of a "corridor" between Rome and Ravenna which bordered on Val di Chiana. The Longobards made Chiusi one of their strongholds in order to control the Byzantine moves. A Longobard necropolis was discovered outside Porta Lavinia in the second half of the XIXth century; in 1874 in particular a tomb containing many jewels was excavated, but most of them were sold abroad.
The image used as background for this page shows a detail of the cast of an ivory pyxis (a cylindrical box), a rare example of Etruscan ivory work which was found in the Tomb of the Pania near Chiusi. The original is in Florence.
Orvieto - Medieval Monuments
Orvieto - Cathedral and Papal Palace
Orvieto - Renaissance Monuments
Orvieto - Museums
Città della Pieve
Castiglione del Lago
An Excursion to Cortona
An Excursion to Montepulciano
An Excursion to Castiglion Fiorentino
An Excursion to Arezzo