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Etruscan Art

Etruscan Art

   Introduction   |    Jewellery   |    Frescoes   |    Pottery   |    Bronzes   | Mirrors   |    Home   |

In all studies of Etruscan art, it should be remembered that a large proportion of Etruscan art did not survive up until the present day. We read of the Roman destruction of Volsinii and the destruction of 2000 Etruscan bronzes which were melted down to produce bronze coins. As a result of this, we have a somewhat skewed perception of Etruscan art, in that most of the art that survives today is funerary art, and we form totally wrong impressions about the Etrusans as a result. From excavations at Murlo, Roselle and other city sites, it is apparent that art was a normal part of Etruscan life. In Murlo, a seventh century Etruscan villa has been unearthed. Reconstructions show large painted terracotta panels adorned the entrances. Necropolis art in the form of polychrome reliefs and frescoes hint that the Etruscans used colour to great advantage even from the earliest times. Although painted tombs are among the most famous, it should be remembered that these represent a minority, and that only the aristocratic families could afford such luxuries as tomb frescoes.


The above image shows part of the antefix from the temple of Juno Sospita, Lanuvium (6th - 5th Century BCE). This is part of the terracotta antefix at the temple of Juno Sospita, and depicts a maenad, Many similar examples have been found, in many cases with traces of the original polychrome decoration. The characteristic smile is shared by many statues of the contemporaneous Greek Archaic period.

Etruscan Art has been said by some 19th and even 20th Century writers to be somehow inferior, although this was usually by erroneous comparison to the Greek mathematical ideals of beauty. Nowadays we can appreciate Etruscan Art much more readily, since Etruscan Artists seem to capture the feeling and the essence of so many of their subjects so much better than for example art of the highly stylised Classical period.

The styles of Etruscan Art vary considerably between the individual Etruscan cities, and there was also significant variation on style depending on the period - so much so that we can date Etruscan art works in many cases by comparison with other examples. The interest in Etruscan Art grew during the renaissance, at which time the extant Etruscan art had considerable stylistic influences on the emerging artists of the renaissance, many of whom lived in former Etruscan cities where such art was plentiful. By the nineteenth century, Etruscan art had grown to a passion, and the "excavation" of Etruscan tombs to meet growing demands increased. An example of this is the brother of Napolean, who owned land near Canino, which included the Etruscan necropolis of Vulci. These "resources" he exploited to great effect, destroying many pieces of Etruscan art in the process, and covering in the tombs with soil afterwards. As a result of this and many other examples, we now have thousands of pieces of Etruscan Art whose provenance is unknown, and which are still in private collections , or have been donated to museums in Europe and the Unted States.

The Art of The Etruscan Gold-Smith

Etruscan Gold

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Etruscan gold work was arguably unrivaled in the Mediterranean during the first millennium BCE. A considerable selection of Gold jewellery was found in the Regolini Galassi tomb, which was discovered in the 19th Century, surprisingly with little evidence of looting. Looting was all too common in Ancient days, and was even encouraged officially by Alaric the Goth when his armies overran Rome in the early 5th Century CE.

The above magnificent bow shaped gold fibula was taken from the Regolini- Galassi Tomb, Cerveteri (Caere) and dates back to the 7th Century BCE. This to me is one of the finest examples of Etruscan goldsmith's art. This illustration does not do justice in revealing the fine work that went into such a piece. The precise technique of granulation was for a long time a forgotten art, and it was only rediscovered in the 20th Century by E Treskow.
(A fibula is a kind of large ornamental safety pin used to fasten a robe)


The Fibula on the left is another illustration of the art of the Rasenna goldsmiths.

Etruscan Frescos


Above Left: From the tomb of the Lionesses, Tarquinia. Above Right: From the tomb of the Triclinium, Tarquinia. Both pictures illustrate the ubiquitous Etruscan joi de vivre.

These are very typical of so many Etruscan Frescoes which depicted figures vibrant with life, often dancing or playing musical instruments. They painted birds or animals on many of these intermingled with the human figures, who usually looked strong and healthy and full of the joy of life. The little birds and other figures from nature somehow do not seem out of place or look like mere decorations, but lended a natural harmony to the finished work.

The above sculpture (actually a hollow cinerary urn) comes from the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri, and is known as the Sarcophagus dei Sposi. It is currently exhibited in the Villa Giulia museum in Rome. The terra cotta sarcophagus lid with figures of a man and woman, presumably his wife reclining on a triclinium or dining couch presumably eating a meal or having a quiet moment after supper. Both figures are propped up on their left elbow with the man close behind the woman. Both faces share a secret, tender smile. A very similar sarcophagus to this was also found in Cerveteri. They are beieved to be by the same artist aand date to 520 - 530 BCE.

The Greeks and later the Romans had some very pointed ideas about the Etruscans. Theopompus of Chios, a Greek historian who lived in the Fourth century BCE wrote of the : Morality of the Etruscans "...Further they dine , not with their own husbands, but with any men who happen to be present, and they pledge with wine any whom they wish. They also drink excessively and are very good looking. The Etruscans rear all the babies that are born, not knowing who the father is in any single case....."

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Etruscan Art Links

Musei Toscani (list of museums where you can see Etruscan Art)

Etruscan Exhibitions in the Vatican