Villa Giulia was originally built for Pope Julius III (r. 1550-55). Since 1889 it has housed the Museo Nazionale Etrusco, the greatest collection of Etruscan artefacts in the world.
The jewel in the crown is, perhaps, the Sarcofago degli Sposi (Sarcophagus of the Spouses), a 6th-century BCE terracotta funerary monument, which was found in the necropolis at Cerveteri (ancient Caere). As the Etruscans practised cremation, this is not in fact a sarcophagus, but a receptacle for the ashes of the dead.
The couple are reclining together on a banqueting couch. The woman holds in her left hand a small, round object, possibly a pomegranate, a symbol of immortality.The man rests his arm tenderly on his wife’s shoulder, an affectionate gesture, which makes this one of the most moving sculptures from the ancient world.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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