Sphinx as grave guardian


Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Berlin, Germany

Large bulging eyes under arched eyelids and a low forehead dominate the wide face of the sphinx. Her mouth is small, her lips narrow and pressed together. Her hair sits on her head like a cap and falls from a crisp part in the middle. Like strands of beads, the tresses descend behind the ears and through an emphatic horizontal band at the back of the head. They are preserved to their full length on the left side. A wide band also wraps around the long neck. The remains of a wing tip are visible on the back of the head.
The head once belonged to a crouching lion sphinx with raised wings. Its expressive face is characteristic for very early Etruscan sculpture, which in style and iconography drew heavily on eastern and Daedalic Greek models. Because Archaic art from individual Etruscan cities displays a strong local character in both material and style, the head can be fairly certainly located in or around Vulci even though its provenance is undocumented.
Along with Caere, Vetulonia, and Chiusi, Vulci was one of the most important centers of large-scale Archaic sculpture in Etruria. A large number of pieces carved from the local nenfro stone were created in Vulci and environs between the end of the seventh century and ca. 520 BC. Fashioned from the local volcanic stone, these stone sculptures appear exclusively in Etruscan funerary contexts. Fantastical beasts like sphinxes, winged lions and panthers, and centaurs were erected as guardian figures to watch over the richly furnished tomb precincts that belonged to the aristocratic elite. Several figures even took on colossal proportions: for instance, the winged felines from the famous tumulus of Cuccumella – fragments of which were given to the Antikensammlung by the count of Torlonia.

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  • Title: Sphinx as grave guardian
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: -625/-600
  • Location: Vulci
  • Physical Dimensions: h40 cm
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Medium: Limestone
  • Inv.-No.: Sk 1252
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-814319
  • External link: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: || Photo: © b p k - || Photo Agency / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius
  • Collection: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz