The Portrayal of the Culture of Death and Afterlife in Art

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Throughout history, different cultures dealt with the concept of death and afterlife according to their beliefs, and developed different perspectives about what happens after the body dies. These ideas were often reflected in their art, literature, and their lifestyle as well. Most cultures produce art objects that is related to their beliefs, some cultures produced sculptures and artifacts, whose purpose was to honor the dead, or keep the memory of the ancestors. 

Others were famous for some complex rituals involving death, afterlife, so they produced objects that they believed they might use it in the next world, or assist in their journey there. These different beliefs also affect the way a body is treated after death. This paper will discuss the similarities and differences between Etruscan and Egyptian portrayal of afterlife and death in their art, by searching about the religious beliefs and funerary practices for both cultures, and how these beliefs were represented through their art and affected it.

As an important part of human life, death has always been a source of reflection, imagination, and inspiration for thinkers, artists, and even for ordinary people. The questions about the nature of death and what happens after death have been answered in different ways by religions, philosophies, and traditions. The culture of death and what happens in the afterlife inspired the artists and affected the art of the different nations.

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Before the small village of Rome became “Rome” with a capital R, a brilliant civilization once controlled almost the entire area we now call Italy. This was the Etruscan civilization, a vanished culture whose achievements set the stage not only for the development of ancient Roman art and culture but for the Italian Renaissance as well. 

The majority of our knowledge about Etruscan art comes largely from their burials. the Etruscans cared very much about equipping their dead with everything necessary for the afterlife—from lively tomb paintings to sculpture to pottery that they could use in the next world. When someone died, he or she would be cremated and provided with another ‘home’ for the afterlife.

To the ancient Egyptians, death was not the end of life but only a transition to another plane of reality. Once the soul had successfully passed through judgment by the god Osiris, it went on to an eternal paradise, The Field of Reeds, where everything which had been lost at death was returned and one would truly live happily ever after. The Etruscan and Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife were relatively similar, this resulted in similarities in their burial and funerary practices. And the art they produced, which was related to their religious beliefs. Both societies have been obsessed with death. Both societies featured burial elements that were quite elaborate: tombs, decorated sarcophagi, and extensive rituals involving the preparation of the dead.

We can see the differences between the two styles, the Etruscan paintings shows more energy and movement, unlike the Egyptian paintings. Also, the theme of the paintings in each tomb, the Egyptian painting shows the judgement scene as a timeline for the process the dead person walks through after dying. The Etruscan paintings on the wall shows a celebrating scene that according to their beliefs, these rituals are the key to help the dead to survive to the next life. in general, Egyptian painting did not develop a sense of depth, the figures are varying in size with their importance rather than their location.

In the Etruscan funerary art, happiness and joy weren’t the only emotions that they delivered. It often depicts scenes of revelry, figure 5 shows a wall painting that represents some blood rituals that related to a funeral, the drawing shows a frontal image of the bodies, which is similar to the Egyptian way of drawing.

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