Sarcophagus and lid with portraits of husband and wife

Italic, Etruscan
Late Classical or Hellenistic Period
Late 4th–early 3rd century B.C.

Place of Manufacture: Italy, Lazio, Vulci

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 384; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 116 (additional published references); Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 095.


Height : 88 cm (34 5/8 in.); width: 73 cm ( 28 3/4 in.); length: 210 cm (82 11/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Volcanic tuff

On View

Temporary Storage (Gallery 117)


The Ancient World


Coffins and sarcophagi

The cover of the sarcophagus shows a man and woman lying nearly facing each other on a bed with pillows and a large sheet wrapped about them.The portrait of the man is of particular interest to the study of Etruscan (and Early Roman) portraiture, foreshadowing in many respects the Roman Republican portraiture which would, in considerable degree, devlop from the Etruscan form. The woman wears a double fillet or braids around her hair, a heart-shaped earring, and a long chiton with sleeves. It is difficult to tell what, if any, clothing the man was wearing, unless details of costume were added in paint. The pediments at each end of the lid have three ideal, female(?) heads in relief in rosettes.

The front of the body shows a ceremony, interpreted by some as the couple’s marriage and by others as their reunion in the afterlife. They clasp hands in the center, or (more precisely) he places his hand around her wrist, while he also holds a knotted staff in the left hand. Four attendants follow on either side. Those on the left comprise (from center to corner) a man with a tall staff, a lantern or jar suspended from it; a woman with a tray on her head and a pitcher in her lowered right hand; a woman with a large fan or flabellum and a situla in her lowered right hand; and a woman with a lyre and plectron. On the right appear a young man with a chair; another with a small stick or scepter; a third with a curved horn; and a woman with a wreath and double flutes.

On the left end, two women, parasol over their heads, ride in a cart drawn by two mules driven by a male attendant. A winged spirit of death waves two snakes at them. On the right end, a bearded magistrate mounts a two-horse chariot, attended by a man with the pastoral staff or lituus.

Since the man on the major front panel wears the Greek himation, it has been suggested that he is the heroized deceased, leading his wife to the underworld. If such be the case, she may have survived him to have her own separate procession on the left end, and the scene on the front thus may be taken as a symbolic “marriage” ceremony, the union with death and life in the underworld rather than merely in life on earth.

The lid is broken across at the couple’s legs and has been rejoined, with two small pieces missing. The body has cracks. There are minor chips and abrasions, but the general condition is excellent. The surfaces have a crusty brown patina.


By 1845/46: according to Dennis, Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, p. 472, this sarcophagus and MFA 86.145 were found at Vulci in the winter of 1845 to 1846 and taken to Musignano; Princess of Canino Collection at Musignano; by unknown date: James Jackson Jarves Collection (according to a catalogue of the exhibition of his collection in 1883, the two sarcophagi were found in the winter of 1842-1843 on the banks of the river Fiora near Vulci); by 1887: Boston Athenaeum Collection (Ath. 1281); loaned by Boston Athenaeum to MFA from 1887 to 1975 (loan no.1070 a&b); 1975: purchased by MFA from the Boston Athenaeum; approved by Committee on the Collections, March 10, 1976; recorded as gift of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius C. Vermeule III, by exchange

Credit Line

Museum purchase with funds by exchange from a Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius C. Vermeule III