The Etruscan ancestor cult provides the initial impetus for the Roman art of portraiture.
The Etruscans began very early to decorate their urns and sarcophagi with figures of the deceased. This was initially in the form of symbolic representations of men and women, later in more naturalistic renditions, often of people of high rank.
From the 2nd century BC onwards a more individual and realistic representation of facial features starts to emerge. One example is to be found on a sarcophagus lid in the Etruscan Collection.
The figure represents a reclining middle-aged man with a heavy, lined face, clearly indicating the effect of the passage of years. The signet ring and his general attitude indicate this was a gentleman of the nobility.