In 1863 and 1865, Domenico Golini found the world-famous frescoed tombs that were named after him, in Orvieto’s territory, more precisely at Poggio del Roccolo di Settecamini, between Orvieto and Porano. It is a pair of monuments of exceptional artistic and documentary value that form a unicum in the territory they belong to (another painted tomb, which belonged to hescanas family, was discovered in the same area). For obvious reasons of safety and preservation, wall paintings were detached in 1950 and moved to the Orvieto National Archeological Museum where are now displayed in a space that has been designed to replicate the original tombs.
The Golini I tomb
The Golini I tomb, also called “dei Leinie” consists of a single, large quadrangular room with a tuff partition partition dividing it in two which, starting from the bottom wall, arrives at almost half of the sepulchral room. The fresco depicts a scene from a banquet in the underworld celebrating the dead man’s passage to the hereafter, where is welcomed by his ancestors with a feast. Very interesting is how architecture and painting merge using structural parts to separate materially and conceptually the illustrated scenes; the tuff partition, in fact, not only divides the area, but also separates the servile part from the main one; so the picture represents an essential ideological division and the two different stages of the feast: the scene from preparations and the scene from the real banquet.
The frescoes in the space on the left depict scenes from preparations for the banquet, showing servants and chefs who are preparing dishes and accompanied by an Etruscan flute player; very realistic is the picture of butchered carcasses hanging from hooks nailed to tables, as well as the scene of a slave who butchers meats. Another illustration depicts the other preliminary stages of the meal, as it shows the scene of the slave who is grinding foods, maybe spices, with pestles in a big three-feet bowl; there are also people who are lighting a fire or those who are preparing a long trapeza with tableware.
The frescoes in the space on the right depict the dead man who, on a chariot pulled by horses, with a winged genius (lasa), reaches the hereafter before Hades and Persephone; the underworld couple, seated on a litter, presides over the banquet attended by the ancestors and members of the Leine’s family, whom the tomb belongs to, whereas naked slaves prepare a magnificent tableware in an area lit up by high candelabras. Almost all characters represented in both the areas, as well as animals, are accompanied by inscriptions, a kind of captions aiming to recall the genealogy of the family members, the positions they occupied, but also the different roles played by slaves.
The Golini II tomb
The Golini II tomb or “delle due Bighe” (the tomb of the two chariots) consists of a single rectangular sepulchral chamber where stand out the illustrated scenes, unfortunately very damaged and sometimes illegible. The subject is very similar to that of the above-mentioned burial, the arrival of a pair of dead in the Hades where is taking place a banquet cheered by lituus and trumpet players.
The main characters are depicted on the sides of the entrance door; the man on the left arrives on a chariot drawn by two horses, behind him the wall is painted with a procession of six characters going towards two klinai, where there are two couples of banqueters who are identified by inscriptions as members of cnezus family. To the right of the door there is another chariot led by a charioteer, whereas the wall shows three klinai similar to the previous ones; the characters depicted are identified by inscriptions as members of the Vercnas family. The frescoes that adorned the bottom wall are now badly deteriorated, except for few fragments concerning figures of warriors.
A Pictorial School
Both the monuments date back to the second half of the IV Century B.C. and show a consistency of conception that points out the existence of a studio or a local pictorial school which, most likely, stopped working after the destruction of the city in 264 B.C.
In conclusion, it is worth stressing that the above-mentioned tombs not only are a valuable and rare historical and artistic evidence of the Etruscan Volsinii painting in the late classical and Hellenistic age, but also they have an important documentary value due to the photographs of the daily aspects and of the customs that characterized the aristocracy life of the time. They also represent one of the latest signs of the figurative theme of the symposium in the Hereafter where the living and the dead feast together; then the subject of grave painting will be replaced with a new concept of tomb which becomes a three-dimensional representation of the Underworld where all the family members buried there take part in an eternal banquet.
More on Orvieto
-F. Boitani, M. Cataldi, M. Pasquinucci, Le città etrusche, Milano 1973.
-M. Cristofani, Etruschi. Cultura e società, Novara 1978.
-M. Cristofani, Dizionario della civiltà etrusca, Firenze 1985.
-P. Bruschetti, Gli Etruschi a Orvieto. Collezioni e territorio, Città di Castello 2006.
-Camporeale, Gli Etruschi. Storia e civiltà, Torino 2000.
-A. E. Feruglio, Porano. Gli Etruschi, Perugia 1995.
-M. Torelli, Storia degli Etruschi, Bari 1981.
-Torelli 1985 M. Torelli, L’arte degli Etruschi, Bari 1985.
-M. Torelli, “Limina Averni”. Realtà e rappresentazione nella pittura tarquiniese arcaica, in M. Torelli, Il rango, il rito e l’immagine. Alle origini della rappresentazione storica romana, Milano 1997, 122-151.
-M. Torelli (ed.), Gli Etruschi, Milano 2000.