Abstract: Under the Tuscan Soil: Reuniting Greek Vases with Etruscan Tombs


In the Bullettino dell’Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica of 1879, Wolfgang Helbig — a Secretary of what would become the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut in Rome — described the discovery of two “virgin tombs” at Foiano della Chiana in Tuscany, two of over sixty that were excavated on private land at that time.  Helbig noted that Athenian black- and red-figured vases dating from the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. dominated the Foiano finds overall, but for only these two tombs could he describe the vessels and place them into context.  In each case, Athenian vases served as cinerary urns for some members of the family, while local Etruscan objects comprised the remainder of the tomb assemblage.  The vases were soon dispersed onto the art market as was typical in the nineteenth century, and today they can be found in such far-flung places as Cortona and Chiusi in Italy, and Boston and Baltimore in the United States.  Indeed, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has two vases from these Foiano tombs, one a black-figured volute krater identified by Anna Rastrelli in 1998 as deriving from Tomb One, and the second a red-figured column krater identified by the present author as coming from Tomb Two.    

This talk will discuss the Athenian vases of Foiano within their Etruscan tomb contexts, with a focus on their shapes and imagery and how these were appropriate within a mortuary setting.  Specifically, the funerary customs of nearby Chiusi prove essential to understanding why these vases were chosen for deposition and what their meaning may have been.  More than reflecting any particular “hellenization” in this region of Etruria, the primary value of Athenian vases for their Foiano owners lay in their integration into local material culture and their manipulation to suit traditional practice and belief.         

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