The word oenochoe comes from Ancient Greek «οἶνος–χέω», whose meaning derives from the function of the vase: “wine-pour”. They were very popular in symposia. Different models of this jug were exported all around the Mediterranean, particularly to Italy, and as can be seen with this example, they were assimilated into the Etruscan culture. Etruscan art received direct influences from figurative Greek art, fundamentally as concerned the conception of the human body and naturalist depictions. This can be seen clearly in the wide production of terracotta sculpture from the 6th century BC and in the fresh colours used to decorate necropoleis.

Although there is still no consensus among historians as to the origin of the Etruscans, they were peoples who developed a culture in the region of what is today Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio on the Italian Peninsula during the 8th to the 1st century BC. During the Villanovan Period (9th to 8th century) the Etruscans created settlements which developed into great cities, benefiting from the abundance of crops, good climate and copious metal deposits. From the 8th century on, when the Phoenicians and Greeks began to make forays into their territory, Etruscan leaders took advantage of the commercial contacts to become wealthier and adopt the technology of these newcomers. In the 6th century, considered the “classical” period of this civilization, the Etruscans were already organized into independent city-states with a monarchical regime which would take control of the emerging city of Rome.

This bronze oenochoe possesses a beautiful green patina with some orange patches. From a flat base it widens and rises to form markedly rounded shoulders, followed by a short, wide neck ending in a mouth with a long angled spout similar to the prototype of beaked jug 9 established by Beazley (see the Museo Arqueológico Nacional inv. 1999/99/156). A great striped vertical handle joins the mouth to the body of the jug, and this handle forks at the lip of the vase and ends in a knob, a possible stylization of the head of a serpent, given that decoration with zoomorphic motifs was customary on Etruscan oenochoai. The handle ends on the body with an applique in the form of an inverted palmette with spiralling stalks which end in leaves on either side. This was a customary model for Etruscan jugs, as can be seen in the three examples conserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (n. 12.160.1, 12.160.2 y 12.160.3) or can be seen in the example recently sold at Christie's (6/12/16, Lot 30). This typology was mainly produced in the city of Vulci, Civita Castellana, from where it was exported throughout Italy and to the rest of Europe.

Two incised registers can be seen in the decoration. At the base and on the shoulders there is a continuous meander, only interrupted in the upper area by a cartouche with a tie. The upper register is accompanied by a continuous band of small palmettes. The engraving of the bronze would seem to have been done with a special tool which marked the metal with a fine zigzag, similar to that which can be seen in the kylix conserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (n. 09.221.21). In the area between these registers and below the spout of the jug, we can observe two male figures facing each other in profile, over a straight line and a wavy band which could be suggesting the movement of waves. Both men are wearing garments with voluminous folding, and this is depicted by the shading technique done with the engraver’s chisel itself.

The figure on the left is holding a helmet with a large crest like those adopted by the Etruscans from the Greek hoplites. This man would seem to be the younger one, with long hair held by a band at the temples, and a nose of a large size. The most notable characteristic, however, is that this figure is a winged one, possibly one of the daimons of the Etruscan Underworld. In the first representations Charun is presented as a genie with animal features (and with the nose of a vulture) who guarded the entrance to the Underworld and who generally tortured the souls with an axe or a hammer. From the 3rd century BC his features become less scarey and he is assimilated with the Greek Charon (detail from the Tomb of the Infernal Chariot, Panacce Necropolis). At the same time, Vanth was also a winged genie of the Underworld, the omniscient herald of death, similar to the classical Hermes psychopomp. Both used to be represented guarding the doors to the Underworld or receiving the souls of the deceased (see the decoration on the Tomb of the Souls, 3rd century BC, Tarquinia, and the Tomb of the Two Roofs, 2nd century BC).

The second male figure is on the right. He is bearded and seems to be holding a great spear. It is possible that what we have here is a representation of a funerary scene: the arrival of a soldier or warrior at the entrance to the Underworld to be received by Charun. The style of the representation does not seem to correspond to that used in other Etruscan bronze works such as mirrors, where the technique lacks depth and the figures are flat and linear (see British Museum n. 1865,0103.39). For this reason, it is probable that we are dealing with an Etruscan imitation of Greek art practices, as the theme is repeated constantly in funerary steles and in lekythoi with the same function (White-ground Lekythos, National Archaeological Museum, Athens, inv. 1926, and the funerary stele in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, n. 19.192.39).

In conclusion, we find Vitruvius’ principle of decorum or appropriateness at work, where the motif which decorates the support alludes to the field and function which this will have, as many of the Etruscan metallic oenochoai have been found in funerary contexts, as can be seen, for example, in the necropolis of Santa Giuliana (Perugia, in the middle of the 4th century BC), in the Tomb of the Warrior of Vulci (Tomb XLVII 4th century BC) and in the so-called Tomb of the Chariot in «La Gorge-Meillet» (Musée d’Archéologie Nationale Saint-Germain-en-Laye).


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