The Guarnacci museum is one of the earliest
public museums in Europe. Founded in 1761 when the noble abbot Mario Guarnacci (Volterra
1701-1785) , a collector of antiquities, donated his archeological collection to the
citizens of the city of Volterra. The donation also included a rich library of more
than 50.000 volumes. A far-sighted gesture, for Guarnacci not only prevented the dispersal
of the treasured contents of the burial sites but also bequeathed a prestigious cultural
heritage to Volterra.
Guarnacci, an erudite historian also published Le Origini Italiche, Lucca 1767 ;a
controversial publication that generated vivacious criticism from historical circles thus
attracting the attention of great intellectuals such as Giovanni Lami, Scipione Maffei and
Anton Francesco Gori who were promptly published endless articles many of which were
featured in magazines such as Le Novelle letterarie published in Florence and
edited by Lami.
A cinerary urn, III century b.C.
The first Museum was housed in Palazzo Maffei (
in Via Matteotti then Via Guidi) purchased by Guarnacci to house his collection. At his
death in 1785 the collection was transferred
to the 13th century Palazzo dei Priori. Enriched by donations, purchases and further
excavations , the director Niccolò Maffei transferred the museum to the Palazzo Desideri
Tangassi in 1877.
Maffei exhibited the artefacts according to 19th century criteria . The cinerary urns were
and are still displayed according to the theme carved on the lower case of the urns and
the other items according to their typology.
This expositive criteria has recently been updated with the addition of exhibits placed in
chronological order , an itinerary purposefully designed to offer a comprehensive overview
of the historical development of the Etruscan Velathri.
Urn of the married couple (the lid), II
The ground floor elucidates the Villanovan, Orientalizing,Archaic and Classic eras and
continues on the second floor where the economic and artistic splendour of Etruscan
Volterra from the IV-I centuriesB.C. is comprehensively expounded.
The visit of the museum begins with the early Iron Age IX-VIII centuries B.C.. In Room I
burial goods from the necropolis of the Badia and the Guerrucia excavated in 1892/1898. In
Room I bis treasures from a Warriors Tomb have recently been added to the collection after
find in 1996 of a rare exquisitely manufactured bronze crested helmet , a laminated bronze
and items pertaining to a warrior.
Very few items dating to the Orientalizing Period ( VII) have been found in Volterra and
are thus particularly significant : a bucchero Kyathos from Monteriggioni bearing a
dedicatory inscription, a series of bronze votive figurines and some remarkable jewellery
from the tomb in Gesseri di Berignone (Volterra) donated to the museum by Bishop Incontri
The funeral stele of Avile Tite, one of the most renowned items of the Guarnacci
collection ,dates to the archaic period (VI century B.C.)and portrays a warrior wielding a
lance and sword similar in style to Greek-Oriental works of art.
In the centre of Room III items from the V century B.C : a scarab in carnelian with a
Greek inscription bearing the name of the artist (Lysandros), an Attic Krater attributed
to a late production of the Berlin Painter and a calque of a masterpiece of Etruscan sculpture, the so
called Lorenzini Head, possibly of a deity, one of the earliest examples of a marble cult
figure in northern Etruria.
The visit continues on the second floor which displays the reconstruction of tombs and
burial furnishings of the Hellenistic Period ( IV -I century B.C.). The main feature of
the collection is the cinerary urn typical of Volterra and its territory. In fact the rite
of cremation was almost exclusive to this area.The ashes were ceremoniously placed in the
urn, similar to a small sarcophagus.
The lid predominantly represents a recumbant figure attending a luxurious banquet feast, a
social occasion also assisted by the Etruscan women, held in disrepute by the Romans and
In this section of the museum, recently excavated tombs have been meticulously
reconstructed . The family tombs display an array of burial furnishings which the
relatives placed by the funeral monument symbolically submitting the deceased to the
underworld. Many of the items pertain to the banquet, vases to mix water and wine,jugs and
drinking vessels and others are ornamental or and personal items.
In Rooms XXVII and XXVIII urns and burial furnishings from the Badia necropolis from the
III and II centuries B.C.. Room XXIX is dedicated to the didactic reconstruction of an
artisan workshop exhibiting the utensils still used by the alabaster artisans here in
Volterra . In Room XXX a collection of alabaster urns of exquisite workmanship. Alabaster,
a local stone was exclusively utilized for the production of the cinerary urns.
In Room XXXI scenes from Greek mythology and the Voyage to the world beyond which
illustrate the wide range of chosen themes.Rooms XXXII and XXIIa dedicated to the theme of
portraiture which concludes the section on the urns. During the Hellenistic
period there was a profuse production of artefacts in bronze and ceramics; mirrors, votive
figurines, vases, locally minted coins, and the (Roms XXXVI and XXXVII ) black and red
In Room XXXV sculptures and funeral monuments;The Mother and Child(the so called
kourotrophos Maffei) with a dedicatory inscription (III century B:C..) is particularly
At the entrance fragments of terracotta decorations from the temple excavated on the
The Guarnacci Collection
Rooms III-IX on the ground floor and the first floor (Rooms XIII-XXVI) display the
nucleus of the original collection. The exhibit dates back to 1877 and consists of more
than 600 cinerary urns displayed according to theme: Room IV -Ornamental Motifs (demons
masks and rosettes);
Room V -Fantastic and Ferocious animals; Room VI-the Final Leave-taking, ; Room VII
-TheVoyage to the Underworld on Horseback; Room VIII -The voyage in a covered wagon
(carpentum); Room IX- The Voyage in quadriga.
The first floor exhibits urns portraying scenes from Greek mythology.
Room XVI -The Trojan cycle: Cadmus killing the dragon, Actaeon devoured by his hounds, the
Execution of Dirce, Oedipus and the Sphinx, the Seven against Thebes. RoomXVII - The
Recognition of Paris as son of Priam, the Rape of Helen, Telephus in the Greek camp,
Philoctetes abbandoned on the island of Lemnos, the Arrival of the Amazons in aid of
Priam, the Sacrifice of theTrojan prisoners . Room XIII Athenian Sagas: Theseus and the
Minotaur. Room XVII-
The Rape of the Leucippidae. Room XIV- Argive myths: Perseus and Andromeda Room; Pelops
and Hippodamia. Some scenes are from the Odyssey: Ulysses and the sirens, the Blinding of
Polyphemus, the changing of Ulysses sailors into animals, the Massacre of the suitors Room
Room XX exhibits the splendid Urn of the Married couple an exquisitely detailed sculpture
in terra cotta ,portraying a recumbant elderly couple (I century B.C.).
In the centre of Room XXII stands the elongated,filiform votive figure of a young boy
known as Ombra della sera (Shadow of the Evening). Its notority enriched by legends,
is essentially due to its singular proportioned shape of this bronze statuette, an
exquisite example of III century Etruscan sculpture.
The first floor also contains a beautiful collection of Roman mosaics from buildings of
Imperial Rome here in Volterra or from Segalari (Castagneto carducci) and an impressive
collection of coins with rare examples of Etruscan coins in gold, silver and bronze, more
than three thousand Greek, Roman Republican and Imperial coins, bronze figurines(Room
XXIV), jewellery and gems (Room XXV).
The visit of the first floor concludes with Room XXVI dedicated to the Roman era . Many of
the items were found within the city walls and at the Roman theatre including the
inscription bearing the name of the Caecina family who commissioned the construction of
the theatre during the reign of Augustus and Tiberius.
Funerary epigraphs in latin from Rome, Volterra and the surrounding area adorn the