Archaeological Museum of Bologna

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Funeral stela with scenes from the journey of the deceased

On the exterior the tombs were identified with various kinds of markers, in most cases rough river stones, or spherical cippi on a square base with ram heads at the corners, with illustrated stelae in local sandstone marking the graves of the more high-ranking individuals. The stelae, in particular, with their typical horseshoe shape, were representative of original sculpture unique to Bologna and unknown elsewhere. The decoration was very low bas relief, originally painted in bright colours, with illustrations over the entire surface or split into registers separated by strips to form a frame. The iconographical repertoire was quite standardized and inspired by many style models from coeval Attic pottery. The preferred themes were almost always to do with death and the hereafter of the deceased: kidnapping by a demon of the underworld, a journey on a wagon towards the afterlife, games during solemn funerals, various sea monsters that evoke an otherworldly dimension, but rarely mythological episodes. Only the most prestigious stelae also have an inscription that reveals the name of the deceased. Following a precise organization of the necropolis landscape, the burials with stelae or stones were not only placed near the edge of the road, but were also concentrated mainly in the areas closest to the urban centre.

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This stela’s shape and the type of illustration make it one of the most emblematic of the group of characteristic Bolognese grave markers. It is of monumental dimensions and decorated in bas relief on both sides. The theme of the deceased’s passage from life to death is described with two different scenes, in both of which a winged demon appears. On one side it “steals” the deceased and takes him by the hand to the underworld; on the other it guides him to the hereafter on a chariot drawn by winged horses. The latter illustration is included in one of the three bands on one side of the stela; the other two bands show an illustration of funeral games below, with an Etruscan armed knight facing a nude warrior with sword and shield; above there is a battle between a serpent and a hippocampus, fantastic animals alluding to the underworld.

Provenance: Bologna, Certosa necropolis, tomb 89
Datation: Second half of the 5th century BC
Material: Sandstone
Inventory #: Ducati 168

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