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Entruscan Art: religion and afterlife!

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Etruscan art exudes a particular archaic and mysterious charm maybe because it was made by an ancient population of central Italy whose origin we are not so sure. Actually there are two hypotheses that archaeologists have formulated to explain the origin of this ancient people. The first affirms a presumed origin from Asia and specifically from India whereas the second supposed the indigenous origin of such ancient people. If the second hypothesis were true Etruscan would have been an italic ancient people located prevalently in today’s Tuscany,in part of Umbria,in Lazio but even in the North, in Emilia-Romagna,Lombardy and Veneto while in the South got as far to sam territories of Campania.

Let’s start to say that etruscan art was the basis on which it developed thereafter the archaic roman art and it can be divide in different periods as follows:

  • Villanovan Period(900 to 700 b.C.)
  • Orientalising Period(700 to 575 b.C.)
  • Archaic Period(575 to 480 b.C.)
  • Classical Period(480 to 300 b.C.)
  • Hellenistic Period(300 to 50 b.C.)


In Villanovan period we can already notice a kind of art primarily funerary characterized by impasto pottery decorated by various geometry as well as are created hut-shaped urns and several bronze items. Since have been found several bronzetti in the grave goods of villanovan period it is assumed that etruscan civilization in such period has been in contact with other coultures,among which sardinian one, and it was influenced by them.

Villanovan period fell apart due to crisis of  agro-pastoral society caused by commercial exchanges with different civilizations. Greek merchants who came from Euboea and who were called “Eubei” ,were the first that with their trade,influenced etruscan art in such period. The first signs of oriental influence ricovered in the funeral gifts there have been from XIII century with the discovery important items such vitreous paste and seals and it became more and more evident during the next century. In this period begin even the construction of large funeral complexes at the hands of a richer aristocracy thanks to cultural trade with other people. In fact  burials of wealthy families stood out thanks to large circles of stones that separated them from other colletive graves. In such grave goods were always dicovered chariot,armor and lebes while in the tombs of Praeneste were discovered large bronze boilers as well as bronze and silvery cups with embossed decorations.Etruscan civiliation had the merit to assimilate the culture and art of other population and it stood out for a certain expressionism fresh and immediate. Some social classes especially rich encouraged the arrival to Etruria of foreing craftsmen which were able to sell their artworks; one of them signed his artwork and it was the first signed find come down to us and it is known as vase of Aristonothos. The widespread success of Corinthian vases contributed to homogenize craftmanship and etruscan art on the basis of models greek-oriental.


Archaic period saw the birth of the etruscan dodecapoli where the power passed from a single individual to an oligarchy. It led to a massive buildings of public works like temples in which merged the offerings of the faithful provoking the decrease of items found in the grave goods. Continued the production of of greek pottery first of corinthian origin and then attic which was parallel to the production of local pottery. Artisans who worked terracotta began to produce architectural cladding slabs which were decorated in relief while artistic production of elevated quality was evidenced by bucchero which were ceramic vases black and shiny particulary thin and light. However stone statuary produced especially statues of animals small and medium sized to be placed outside of graves as apotropaic purpose. These statues attested the transition from deadalic style to ionic one which became intense in next centuries. The most famous work of such ionic period was the Sarcophagus of the Spouses which was created of terracotta and dates back to the VI century b.C. while for buildings decoration they preferred to turn towards vegetal stylistic features.


Classic period start with the decline of ionic influence in the etruscan art probably due to battle of Cuma which accentuated the crisis of all etruscan society. Obviously even art and craftmanship suffered from this since there was a lack of artists and artisans which caused a sad stagnation of etruscan art in all its forms. In the city of Chiusi slowly started to establish a rebirth of greek classicism influnced both by Phidia,as concerns the drapery of the statues,and Polykleitos as regards nudes. In this period increased working of bronze mirrors which were decorated and sometimes engraved in relief. Stone sculpture began to flourish again which produced sarcophagi meant to the inside of tombs as well as memorial sculptures outside. Among the public works it is necessary to remember Temple of Juno Curitis,Temple of Scasato, Big Temple of Vulci and moreover was enlarged the Altar of the Queen. The famous Chimera of Arezzo was a bronze sculpture made by Etruscan craftsmen but based on italic and greek model. With the gradual Roman conquest peculiarities of Etruscan art faded until they meet an kind of art called mid-italic which was influenced even by other civilizations; it was an art characterized both by an ordinary language and a formal simplification which expressed simbolic elements.


In this last period of etruscan art there was a change of artistic production proved mostly by new and more modest tombs complexes even though there were no lack of like the famous Ipogeo dei Volumni enterely made by Etruscan craftsmen. The new intermediate social classes promoted a renewal of funerary art of urns and sarcophagi that in any case have always been the hallmark of all Etruscan art. Both sarcophagi and urns were painted with vibrant polychrome which were influenced by Roman art mostly as concerns portraits and mythological themes.In order to build sarcophagi and urns were used materials more or less precious,as alabaster and tufo,which were carved depending of the clients; upper class preferred refined themes as greek mythology whereas middle class preferre local themes. Even architecture was closely linked to funerary sculpture as can be seen by looking to reliefs of Temple of Talamonaccio while in the statuary the only intact example come down to us is bronze statue called Arringatore made with lost wax technique. From the second half of II century there was a gradual decay of quality of sarcophagi which were carved and painted only roughly.


If we consider Etruscan art in its entirely including all five periods which have marked the history, we cannot fail to notice a continuous evolution of artistic techniques due to the influence of several civilizations as greek in the first and roman one later. Whole Etruscan art is permeated with a constant celebration of deceased indeed this ancient people always paid much attention to the tomb decorations both in relief and painting but also in the votive statuary. Even architecture was guided by a funerary sculpture even though we can’t forget that Etruscan developed their own architectural order called tuscanic beginning with greek Doric order. Also in painting there was a tendency to decorations of tombs whose topics were a fusion between local topics and greek models which told about funeral rites and afterlife. The greatest example of decorated graves is for sure the Tomb of Francois that stand out for a greater willingness to celebrate and more accurate details to contemporary reality. Etruscan sculpture also was influenced by greek one despite it never tried to achieve an harmonic and formal perfection. Beside stone sculpture the main materials used by with which were created etruscan statues were bronze and terracotta which were used for votive, decorative and funerary porpuses. Etruscan art,as we mentioned at the beginning, was the basis on which it developed archaic and monarchic Roman art therefore, in some way, it did not disappear on a sudden but rather it helped to develop to an art which would make history like Roman one!

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