The Tomba delle Leonesse, at Tarquinia

(The Tomb of the Lionesses).

By Graziano Baccolini

Versione in Italiano


Now, we visit another of the fascinating tombs which are the real fame of Tarquinia. To understand the Etruscan world we have to forget the readings of the scholars, often in contradiction among them, and we instead observe attentively the frescos in silence and without hurry. A new world that we didn't know appears to us. To the Etruscans death was a pleasant continuance of life, with jewels and wine and flutes playing for a dance. It was a natural continuance of the fullness of life. In this tomb we find again the innate feeling, that many of us have lost, of the vitality of the universe and the certainty of a new life. Also in this we find this certainty and wish of rebirth observing a naked flute-boy, died before, and a reclining man, probably his father, offering an egg, symbol of regeneration and rebirth.

Below I report the marvellous description that Lawrence makes of this Tomb.


Lovely again is the Tomba delle Leonesse, the Tomb of the Lionesses. In its gable two spotted lionesses swing their bell-like udders, heraldically facing one another across the altar. Beneath is a great vase, and a flute-player playing to it on one side, a zither-player on the other, making music to its sacred contents. Then on either side of these goes a narrow frieze of dancers, very strong and lively in their prancing. Under the frieze of dancers is a lotus dado, and below that again, all round the room the dolphins are leaping, leaping all downwards into the rippling sea, while birds fly between the fishes. On the right wall reclines a very impressive dark red man wearing a curious cap, or head-dress, that has long tails like long plaits. In his right hand he holds up an egg, and in his left is the shallow wine-bowl of he feast. The scarf or stole of his human office hangs torn a tree before him, and the garland of his human delight hangs at his side. He holds up the egg of resurrection, within which the germ sleeps as the soul sleeps in the tomb, before it breaks the shell and emerges again. There is another reclining man, much obliterated, and beside him hangs a garland or chain , like the chains of dandelion-stems we used to make as children. And this man has a naked flute-boy, lovely in naked outline, coming towards him.(holding up an egg)

D.H Lawrence, Etruscan Places. Pinguin Book, 1947


I have added these last words, holding up an Egg, because Lawrence doesn't say it. Probably he had not observed in this small figure the egg in the right hand. It should be noted that up to day the most famous etruscologists have never individualized this eggs as well as in many other frescos where the figure of the egg is very clear. I don't succeed to understand yet why almost all the Italian scholars have never wanted to take in consideration the figure of the egg with its symbolic meaning.

Recently I have found only an article on internet where the figure of the egg is individualized in the hand of this young naked figure that the author of the article Sonia Amaral Rohter1, of the Brown University, identifies in a statue. In this article I have found interesting news that I didn't know before.. In fact it is reported that Pericle Donati 2, very known etruscologist of the 30ís , had seen in the hand a ring, and the young man was for him a hermaphrodite lover of reclining dead man, while for the Pallottino3 this figure was a servant standing on a podium.. Personally I think that these disquisitions, on who was this character, don't also have a lot of sense because whoever can say any other thing without a comparison and it doesn't change at all the meaning of the scene. I think that instead either important to clarify that in both the figures there is the egg symbol of wish of rebirth. I have found another interpretation that would assign to this young the figure of dead child before the father that would be the owner of this tomb. The father would be the person that is represented in the varied moments of life, with the ulivo, with the scarf and with the egg. The youth child would have been cremated and the preserved ashes in the urn that he finds in the inferior part of the leading wall. This hypothesis, to verify, would make more clear the whole scene and it might also be thought the child is represented in a small statue, let carved by the father, in the moment in which goes toward new life with the egg. The same does the father in the final moment like many other dead persons represented in this way. I woul be very happy if this was true !!


A recostruction of this tomb, from Etruscopolis

The man on the right wall, offering an egg


On the left wall , the small young , perhaps a statue, offering an egg




See also :



1) Sonia Amaral Rohter, The Tomba delle Leonesse and the Tomba dei Giocolieri at Tarquinia,

2) Pericle Ducati, "Le Pitture delle Tombe delle Leonesse e dei Vasis Dipinti," Monumenti della Pittura Antica Scoperti in Italia (1937).

3) Massimo Pallottino, Etruscan Painting (1952) 48. Pallottino suggest that the outline figure is small due to hierarchy of scale. Then, the outline figure is the smallest and least important because he is only an attendant.

 Prof. Graziano Baccolini

Università di Bologna, April 2004

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