Etruscan Art

The Etruscans had a highly developed sense of beauty and proportion, and even a cursory perusal of their art can provide us with a window on their civilization and highly developed culture. Their sculptures include tall, thin bronze figurines of warriors wearing helmets with enormous crests and a bronze stalking chimera showing a mouthful of sharp teeth and rippling muscles. Another well known sculpture is a 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. The Romans probably inherited the custom of taking their evening meal reclining on a triclinium. Etruscan frescoes depict figures vibrant with life, often dancing or playing musical instruments. They painted little 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 merely decorations, but lended a natural harmony to the finished work On one tomb painting, several musicians are depicted playing instruments including a lyre and a curious double flute similar to one seen occasionally on Greek coins.

The Etruscans were famous for their gold jewelry. One earring illustrated on page 119 of the book by Pischel in the list below demonstrates the Etruscans?highly advanced metalworking skills. Part of the design includes a rounded hemisphere created by the meticulous and time consuming technique of granulation in which many hundreds of tiny gold beads are soldered to the surgace to be decorated. Surrounding the granulated hemisphere with its tiny beads are little ovals granulated with larger gold beads and individual large gold beads that give the impression that the piece is made of many golden pearls woven into intricate patterns. On pages 80 - 81 of the book Time - Life Metalsmiths book listed below, a modern goldsmith recreates the granulation technique. There is also an image there of a beautiful dagger from King Tutankhamenís tomb which also exemplifies the art of granulation. Other gold jewelry includes a necklace with many tiny pendants hanging from a woven choker chain (Pischel, p. 119). Each pendant bead is either a flower, acorn, leaf, or a tiny human face! The time and effort that these early craftsmen put into this work must have been enormous.

Another important part of Etruscan art is that associated with their burial and funerary customs. The beautiful sarcophagus lid mentioned in the first paragraph is but one of this type of sculpture. The Etruscans were fond of decorating their sarcophagi with sculptures of lifelike humans in natural poses. Other objects include a great variety of cinerary or burial urns. These range from the biconical (vase shaped) ones of Villanovan design to the miniature hut style seen in early Latium to the canopic style with human figures or heads on their lids.

Etruscan art was greatly influenced by that of the Greek city states, and Corinth in particular. Greek art itself was going through what art historians refer to as the Orientizing period during the Eighth Century B. C. when Eastern influences were bringing a new direction to Greek art. In addition, to the Greek influences felt by Etruscan art, there are marked similarities to the art of the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, Asia Minor, and even Assyria.

Many art historians characterize Etruscan art as somewhat cruder or less mature than contemporary Greek art in style and execution. They usually have praise for the originality and imagination shown by Etruscan art, though. Much is copied from the Greeks, but the Etruscans left their own individual, indelible imprint on the art they left behind.

For an in - depth perspective on Etruscan art, it would be well for a person with an interest in the subject to read one of the fine references cited below or check out any good book on art history from the local municipal or academic library. In the authorís humble opinion, Etruscan art cannot be properly understood or appreciated without rich color images and these would be reproduced here were it not for copyright issues. The author has commented on pieces he likes or somehow strike a chord that links these ancient people to ourselves. This comment brings two final images to mind. The first is of a small inkwell shaped like a chicken in dark gray terracotta. It is decorated with inscribed diagonal lines and the Etruscan alphabet. The style is very reminiscent of a modern toy. One can just imagine it in bright blue plastic with a yellow comb, red beak, and our own alphabet inscribed around its middle. Give it a removable top and a hole for a straw and you would have a childís spill proof juice cup for riding in the car or taking to school in a lunchbox. Learn your alphabet while sipping, and the design is so contemporary looking nobody would even think that the original was 2500 years old!

The second piece is a light grey terracotta figurine (Myersl, p. 119) depicting two women, an older and a younger one seated on a couch, deep in intimate conversation. The younger womanís face is visible, and she has a look of quiet attentiveness about her. The older womanís head is turned in such a way as to suggest that she is giving her some guidance or actively listening while the younger one works through some issue in her life. Overall, the piece conveys very strongly a sense of caring attentiveness that gives us a totally different insight into these people, so long characterized by historians as a violent and debauched civilization.

Sinngien and Boak pp. 21 - 28
Grant pp. 11 - 17, image of Cloaca Maxima, p. 16, other images 27, 48, 50
A Message of Ancient Days by Armento et al., chicken shaped inkwell with Etruscan alphabet, p. 398. Atlas of the Roman World pp. 20 - 24, also see map of regions, p. 19. Images, pp. 31 - 33, images of cinerary urns, p. 31. image of musician playing double flute, p. 32. Cast bronze chimera, p. 33.
Time - Life Imperial Rome pp. 35 - 36, images 31 - 32
A World History of Art images 111 - 121, canopic style cinerary urn with human head on lid, p. 112. image of musician playing double flute, p. 113. Cast bronze chimera, pp. 114 - 115. image of man and wife together on sarcophogus lid p. 118.
The History of Art: Architecture - Painting - Sculpture images 119 - 146. Image of cinerary urn, p. 122.
Roman Art and Architecture closeup of the stone arch of the Cloaca Maxima, p. 148.
History of Art: Ancient Art pp. 263 - 270. image of man and wife together on sarcophogus lid p. 264
Human Heritage: A World History pp. 195 - 200. image of man and wife together on sarcophogus lid p. 198
Time - Life The Metalsmiths technique of granulation rediscovered by modern goldsmith, pp. 80 - 81.

Sinnigen and Boak Page 12
Grant Page 14

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