An Archaeological Find in Quattrocento Volterra


In 1466 a little known humanist, Antonio Ivano da Sarzana was employed as a tutor to the son of Nicodemo Tranchedini da Pontremoli, Ambassador to Florence from the court of Milan. Antonio had taken Nicodemo’s son on an educational tour of the Italian Peninsula and whilst in Volterra, they encountered an underground Etruscan tomb near to the Cameldolite abbey and church of San Giusto. In a letter to a correspondent known only as Ludovico, Antonio describes the experience as follows.


From Antonio Ivano da Sarzana, in Volterra, November 7, 1466, to Ludovico.

… Another thing, not far from the same hill some tombs were discovered in a certain cave, of which one is marble, whose carved tops represent various effigies of people lying down, and the ancient styles of apparel. But they were very short and narrow, whence we easily deduce that, like urns, they preserved ashes, not bodies. There were also numerous but half-broken clay vases in the same cave, whose varied appearance pleased me quite a bit. On top of one marble tomb is carved an image of an elderly matron, with a bracelet, and arm bands painted in light gold. On one front surface of another tomb, a horseman is painted in red pigment, in the early fashion, whom two footmen appear to accompany. one precedes, carrying a shoulder sling, the other follows with a shield. I am of the opinion that these tombs were of one family only, which are now conserved by the diligence of the abbot of San Giusto…


Although the exact location of this particular tomb cannot be stated with any certainty, the image of a single family tomb in nearby Ulimeto (shown above), can illustrate the sight that would have greeted the two travellers. Additionally, the images below, although not directly related to Antonio’s correspondence, allow the twenty-first century viewer to see similar funerary monuments and grave goods of the Etruscans through the eyes of a quattrocento humanist.






References: John R. Spencer, “Volterra 1466.” In The art Bulletin, Vol.48, No. 1 (March, 1966), pp.95-96.

Larissa Bonfante, Etruscan Life and Afterlife: A Handbook of Etruscan Studies, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1986.


Images: Attr. Workshop of Officina di Poggio alle Croci, Volterra, Cinerary Urn, 2nd century BCE, Travertine, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Public domain image.

Grave Goods from a tomb adjacent to the Queen’s Tomb, Tarquinia. http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/27186 © The History Blog, 2018.

Cinerary Urn with a Relief of the Journey to the Underworld, 2nd century BCE, Terracotta, Museo Etrusco Guarnaccia, Volterra.

Ionian School, Negotiation, 500-510 BCE, fresco, Tomb of the Baron, Tarquinia.


Posted by Samantha Hughes-Johnson.


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