True Love In Terracotta

Sarcophagus of the spouses

This beautiful sarcophagus is one of my favorite pieces of art from the ancient world. This “Sarcophagus of the Spouses” is Etruscan – the region northwest of present day Rome, roughly equivalent to Tuscany –  and is from the 6th Century BC.

It’s a world-famous masterpiece of terracotta craftsmanship, and the ashes of two people were found inside. The couple is portrayed in the afterlife, reclining at a banquet with wine vessels in their hands.

Couple 3

The Villa Giulia Museum in Rome now owns the piece, and the backstory is that when the museum founder first saw the shattered clay coffin, he immediately purchased it for display – all 400 pieces! 

The quality of my photos is less than sterling, but in my defense, I have a couple of excuses. First, the sarcophagus is now enclosed in glass (which is understandable), and there was no way to avoid reflections. Additionally, I was photographing on the sly, trying to avoid the roaming security guard and her stern imposition of the No-Photography Rule. 

Couple 2

Funerary rites were important to Etruscans, so in addition to a beautifully detailed sarcophagus, the couple would have been interred in a colorful tomb. 

IMG_3009 - Version 3

I particularly enjoy the loving attitude that the couple shows each other. For these lovers, death is just another part of life to be experienced together – what a romantic notion, forever frozen in terracotta. For my money, this ancient masterpiece has few equals in the world.

It didn’t happen often in the ancient world, but there were a few cultures which believed that women and men were equals. This Etruscan art is exceptional and moving because it portrays a couple in a timeless love. They were true companions in life and death, and they enjoyed a partnership for the ages. True love is timeless.

* * *

This post wraps up our Lessons From the Road Series. We’ve enjoyed writing the posts, and hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them. As travel bloggers, it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the minutia of a destination or sight. But we’ve found that a step back for a big picture view makes the travel experience more meaningful and rewarding. This approach keeps things fresh for us, and hopefully, for you as well. Thanks for following along.

Happy Trails,

This post is part of our Lessons From The Road Series.

Couple's Feet

Photo Credit: 1. By Frank Axelsson via Wikimedia Commons


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

60 thoughts

  1. Beautiful piece. Thanks for sneaking those photos, and sharing the story of them. Bet they were royalty!
    I went into some Etruscan tombs in Tuscany and they weren’t pretty like this one, just cold stone.

    1. Thanks Alison. The tomb in the post is also in the museum (I can’t imagine how they got it there.) One thing that I love about Etruscan art is that it’s so colorful and almost playful. ~James

    1. Thanks Sue. Terri was my partner in crime on this one. She was my trusty lookout,
      and we had a throat-clearing signal worked out. I had been to this museum and seen this piece years ago, but didn’t take any photos. I was not leaving this time without a few pix of one of my favorite works of ancient art. ~James

      1. Oh good plan to have a look out! I will see if Dave is willing in future circumstances or whether he gives me the ‘Is that really necessary? look’. 🙂

    1. I’ve never understood the no-photo rule Andrew. If the art is a priceless painting or an old document, it’s reasonable that the museum wouldn’t allow flash photography. But a sculpture? ~James

  2. I love this series, such a wonderful departure from the norm and this post in particular was the perfect way to wrap it up…the couple remind me of you two and your travels through life together…

    1. Thanks much Martha. I’m glad you enjoyed the series. It was fun to pull together. I thought that it’s amazing how much this piece says about the Etruscan culture. It’s too bad they were swallowed up by those macho, militaristic Romans. ~James

  3. Glad you didn’t get caught snapping these pics. And also glad you shared them with us. You’re so right — not many statues or artwork, for that matter, featuring couples. And timeless? Let’s hope these bonds we’ve made with our spouses is just that! If not, it’s been a great time together during the earth part.

  4. This is gorgeous art. Wonderful it’s preserved and has withstood the test of time. A true adventurer takes risks: sneaks photographs. ❤ Thank you. What a novel idea: men and woman are equals. I would never have considered such a thing.
    Enjoyed this series. Thanks for the photos and this post.

    1. Very funny Tess. And the photo sneak was a funny incident. I think that the security guard had me pegged as a rule-breaker. She’d disappear through one doorway, and then reappear through another. Of course, she was probably bored out of her mind, and needed a bit of tourist-kicking stimulation. I know I would. ~James

      1. 😀 😀 Think of it as a risk for the better good. Us, your readers. Anyway, what’s the worst that could have happened? Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. They could have thrown you out and you’d miss all that gorgeous beauty.

    1. Thanks Susan, you’re sweet. I’ve never been one for burial monuments, but having one like this would be dandy. Terri said that she just wants her tiny feet and those whizzy shoes. ~James

    1. Thanks Bronwyn, and I may just run this series again at some point. I just need to go out and get some new lessons. I read that male dominance in society goes back to early humans; when the biggest, strongest males were the hunters for the group. And when human societies advanced, it was a natural progression for the hunters to become the leader/king etc. Needless to say, given the number of female breadwinners these days, this is a concept that is incredibly outdated. ~James

  5. I enjoyed the series and especially appreciated these photos and back story of this unique Etruscan antiquity. It is a beautiful symbol of love and equality. Ron and I obeyed the no photography rule in the Taj and other places only to be surrounded by iPhone photography going on en masse. We’ll have to come up with a similar system as yours. Sometimes ya just gotta break the rules. 🙂

    1. Lynne, I understand the photography rules and obey them when, for instance, it says no flash photos of the Mona Lisa. And generally, I don’t just snap, snap, snap on the sly, but I’m not above a bit of sneaky shooting if it’s a really nice piece. I’m convinced that most museums forbid photography so visitors will buy postcards of the pieces in the gift shop. ~James

    1. Yes, those are the lady’s shoes. Even after 2600 years, aren’t they cool? And notice that the husband is barefoot, which shows even more how relaxed they are together. ~James

  6. Beautiful piece – I love the picture of the feet too and noticed the shoes.
    How adventurous of you to sneak pictures 🙂 I guess I’m more of a conformist than I thought. If there is a sign that says DON’T, I WON’T. 😉

    1. I’m normally a rule follower as well Joanne, but since I visited this museum specifically to see this sarcophagus, I didn’t think a couple of photos would hurt. The true test for conformity: you’re driving on a desert road, and can see miles in all directions. You come to an intersection that is a four-way stop and you don’t see any cars. Do you stop or just blow through the intersection? Me, I blow through. ~James

    1. The backstory took a bit of internet poking around LuAnn, but I knew with all these skeletons there had to be a good story. And these skeletons definitely prove that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” ~James

  7. James & Terri, What a lovely post (and series) – when you two write the story of your life, you can title it “Partners in Love and Crimes of Passion”. 😉

    Thanks so much for your commitment to bringing us things we might never have found without your intrepidness (is that a word?). It’s what keeps us coming back for more!

    1. Thanks so much Jonelle for the kind words. This is exactly the type of post that I enjoy writing. There are tons of bloggers doing standard posts on this or that cathedral, but we try to find a perspective that’s new and interesting. And regular readers like you keep us motivated. Thanks again. ~James

    1. I agree Marie, and as I said, this is one of my favorite pieces of ancient art. Couples’ art just didn’t happen much in the ancient world, and this is an outstanding example. ~James

  8. It’s very romantic. I’d love to see it someday! And regarding photographing on the sly, I did that once in Ireland and a fellow museum goer totally yelled at me, made a huge scene and reported me to security. I was mortified and I’ve been a photography rule follower ever since. Heehee!

    1. Leslie, I can say with 100% certainty that this museum whistleblower needs to get a life. Like you, I believe in rules. Cultures develop and thrive because rules are in place. But as long as it’s “No Harm, No Foul,” my approach is that it’s easier to obtain forgiveness than permission. This would make an interesting happy hour conversation. ~James

  9. You guys are so adorable and your story is so romantic! I also like to write about the lessons I’ve learned on the road. Looking forward to reading more of your posts. Thanks for writing 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Brittaney. It enhances my trip when I take a step back to look at the broader travel experience. And these are the lessons. I pleased that you enjoyed the post. ~James

  10. Perhaps on a future trip to France you will discover the beautiful Languedoc-Rousillion. There are more vineyards here than anywhere else in France. You can follow the route de Cathars and the magnificent castles. Heading toward the Pyrenees you can discover the amazing Ille-sur-tet and so much more. I am hooked on exploring this country and blogging the treasures I find. Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. When we lived in London Terri and I both visited France quite a lot on business, and for long weekends as well. It’s a beautiful country that lends itself to “Off the beaten path” experiences. We would try to make sure that our business meetings were scheduled for Friday. 😉 ~James

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