EEtruscan art - Before the days of ancient Rome's greatness, Italy was the home of a nation called Etruria, whose people we call the Etruscans. Its civilization prospered between 950 and 300 BCE. in northwestern Italy — in a region between the Arno River (which runs through Pisa and Florence) and the Tiber (which runs through Rome). These people rose to prosperity and power, then disappeared, leaving behind many unanswered questions concerning their origin and their culture. Because little Etruscan literature remains and the language of inscriptions on their monuments has been only partially deciphered, scholars have gained most of their knowledge of the Etruscans from studying the remains of their buildings, monuments, vast tombs, and the objects they left behind, notably bronze and terra cotta sculptures and polychrome ceramics.

Among theories about the Etruscans' origins are the possibilities that they migrated from Greece, or from somewhere beyond Greece. Perhaps they traveled down from the Alps. Or, as their pre-Indo-European language might suggest, they may have been a people indiginous to today's Tuscany who suddenly acquired the tools for rapid development. The uncertainty is held unresolved.

Theirs was an area of good farmland, forests and mineral resources, all of which the Etruscans exploited skillfully. In time, they became traders, their mariners often doubling up as pirates. And as wealth grew, a social pecking order followed, with a powerful aristocracy living in stone palaces and their serfs occupying wooden huts.

Theirs was not, however, a centralized society dominated by a single leader or a single imperial city. Rather, towns and hill-top villages (many of which survive to this day, albeit with few traces of their Etruscan origins) appear to have enjoyed considerable autonomy. But they spoke the same language, which also existed in a written form. Further, their religious rituals, military practices and social customs were largely similar. For their Greek contemporaries and Roman successors, the Etruscans were clearly a different ethnic group.

Cremation and the burial of ashes in clay urns was a common practice in this area before the advent of the Etruscan era. Among the objects we have that tell us much about the Etruscans are their cinerary urns.


Examples of Etruscan art:


Etruscan, 7th century BCE, Stand (holmos) and Cauldron (lebes), impasto (terra cotta), height overall 133 cm, Louvre.




see thumbnail to rightEtruruscan, Chariot, c. 550-525 BCE, bronze, ivory, height 51 9/16 inches (130.91 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See repoussé.



Etruscan, c. 530 BCE, Black-Figure Hydria with Centaurs Battling Lapithae, terra cotta, height 43 cm, Louvre. See hydria.




see thumbnail to leftEtruruscan, Set of jewelry, early 5th century BCE, late Archaic, gold, glass, rock crystal, agate, carnelian; length of necklace 14 3/16 inches (36 cm); diameter of disks 2 7/16 inches (6.1 cm); length of fibula 1 15/16 inches (5 cm); length of fibulae 1 5/8 inches (4.1 cm); length of pin 2 7/8 inches (7.3 cm); diameter of ring with youth intaglio 7/8 inches (2.2 cm); diameter of ring with Herakles intaglio 15/16 inches (2.4 cm); diameter of ring with bird intaglio 1 1/16 inches (2.7 cm); diameter of plain ring 31/32 (2.45 cm); diameter of ring with lion intaglio 7/8 inches (2.2 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See jewelry.



Etruscan, early 5th century BCE, Chariot Perfume-Brazier, bronze, height 30 cm, Louvre.




see thumbnail to rightEtruscan, Lion's Head, first half of the 5th century BCE, bronze, height 26 cm, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.




see thumbnail to leftEtruscan, Statuette of a Warrior, 5th century BCE, bronze, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Berlin. See statuette.




see thumbnail to rightEtruscan, early 4th century BCE, Reclining Youth, Cinerary Urn, bronze, length of base 69 cm, height of figure 42 cm, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. See cinerary urn.



Etruscan, c. 360 BCE, Red-Figure Krater, Face A: Athena and Poseidon, gods and heroes; Face B: maenad between two satyrs, terra cotta, height 43 cm, Louvre. See mythology.


see thumbnail to leftEtruscan, early 400s BCE, Antefix, terra cotta, 21 7/16 x 12 3/4 x 6 1/2 inches (54.6 x 32.5 x 16.5 cm), J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, CA. A silenos and maenad dance in a Dionysiac revel on this Etruscan antefix.



see thumbnail to rightEtruscan, Vignagrande, Cinerary Urn, mid-2nd century BCE, terra cotta with traces of polychrome, Worcester Art Museum, MA.



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Also see archaeology, Greek art, Roman art, UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.






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