FRAME|WORK is a weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week, we feature a lively lush from ancient Etruria, currently on display in the Hall of Antiquities on the lower level of the Legion of Honor.
These days, if you’re lying down at a party, you probably need to be cut off. In ancient Etruria (largely centered in today's Tuscany), however, this was a standard party pose!
The custom of dining or drinking while reclining on couches originated in the ancient Near East, and the Greeks and the Etruscans shared this practice. Greek vases offer myriad examples of reclining banqueters attending symposia and drinking parties. Banquets depicted in this manner are quite decadent, featuring sumptuous food, wine, musicians, cupbearers, and even courtesans.
While this banqueter appears quite the life of the party, reclining banqueters also formed decorative motifs in tomb paintings from ancient Egypt. Drinking parties depicted in funereal settings referenced the Egyptian belief in equipping the dead with all of the sensual pleasures they had in life, including food and drink.
This languorous bronze reclining banqueter was most likely one of several similar figures used to adorn a large vessel, such as a krater (a large, handled bowl used to mix water and wine). He wears an intricately patterned garment with ornamented borders and a delicately incised pattern of punched circles joined by engraved lines, which represent embroidery. Lounging on his cushion, this spirited fellow is a reflection of the actual attendees at the event in which the original vessel would have been used.
Etruria reached its florescence between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC in central Italy. Trading with other established Mediterranean and Aegean cultures, the Etruscans extended their power and influence beyond the borders of their homeland. They also shared artistic influences and trends with cultures as far flung as Egypt, Asia Minor, and the Near East. The rise of the Roman Empire, however, marked the end of Etruscan preeminence as it was quickly consumed by the pervasive expansion of Rome.
Don’t miss your chance to hang out with the life of the party, currently on display in the lower level at the Legion of Honor!