Lidded box (cista)
Unknown artist, Etruscan
Lidded box (cista), late 4th - mid 3rd century BCE
Height: 29.5 cm (11 5/8 inches)
Gift of Mrs. Gustav Radeke 06.014
Scenes on Praenestine cistae are not always easy to decipher. The veiled woman at the center of the composition could be variously interpreted as a bride preparing for her wedding, as a woman about to be initiated into the cult of the god Dionysos (suggested by the woman to her right, who carries a staff topped by a pine cone), and finally s a deceased woman about to embark on the journey to the underworld. The presence of the messenger god Hermes, seen from behind wearing a winged hat and holding the herald’s staff, supports the last interpretation. Hermes is waiting to escort the veiled woman to her groom, the god Hades, who stands beneath the columns on the eft. Hermes is depicted in his role of guide of the dead to the underworld (psychopompos). It is therefore likely that this elaborately carved cosmetic box was unerary gift for a deceased woman.
The frieze on this cosmetic box is reminiscent of those found on Attic oil jars of the fourth and third centuries BCE. The gesture of the frieze’s main female figure, wearing only sandals and touching her veil, is associated with both marriage and death, while the bath being poured is appropriate for both bridal and funerary contexts. The presence of the god Mercury in his role as conductor of souls indicates a transition for the main figure. In the ancient Greek world, marriage was viewed as a symbolic death, and the marriage ceremony mimicked funeral rites. Thus the box may have been either a wedding gift or a burial offering.
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. “Selected Works”. Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 2008.
Mitten, David Gordon. “Classical Bronzes”. Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1975.
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, A Handbook of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1985.