Italian (Etruscan), NA
Praenestine cista, Nd
Transfer from Vassar College Classics Department, 1968
Classification: Decorative Art
Dimensions: Sight: 10 1/4 x 8 in. (26.04 x 20.32 cm)
This bronze container from the ancient city of Praeneste in Etruria (present day Palestrina) is one of over a hundred similar objects discovered in excava- tions near the site of the once famous temple dedicated to Fortuna. Conven- tional wisdom holds that they were used exclusively as cosmetic cases for wealthy women, though there is increasing support for the view that they were also used as funerary urns since some have been found to contain ashes. The distinctly masculine iconography of the Vassar cista includes wrestling figures on the handle who could be Peleus and Atalanta grappling at the funeral games of Pelias; figures leading horses labeled “Castor” and “Pollux” (in the archaic spelling “[P]ORLOU[CES]”), and other figures including Silenus with his wineskin, Jupiter (identified as “Dies Pater”), Juno, and Diana. The winged figure leading the procession could be Lasa (or Nemesis), the Etruscan deity of Destiny. The unusual combination of characters and the mistakes in labeling suggest an amalgamation of several narrative prototypes. The cista came to Vassar when it was purchased from the sale of the William Randolph Hearst Collection in 1941. The graceful incised drawing suggests the model from which both Cocteau and Picasso found inspiration for their highly linear styles in the 1930s and 1940s.