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Etruscan art

Etruscan art was produced by the Etruscan civilization in central Italy between the 10th and 1st centuries BC. From around 750 BC it was heavily influenced by Greek art, which was imported by the Etruscans, but always retained distinct characteristics. Particularly strong in this tradition were figurative sculpture in terracotta (especially life-size on sarcophagi or temples), wall-painting and metalworking especially in bronze. Jewellery and engraved gems of high quality were produced.

The great majority of survivals came from tombs, which were typically crammed with sarcophagi and grave goods, and terracotta fragments of architectural sculpture, mostly around temples. Tombs have produced all the fresco wall-paintings, which show scenes of feasting and some narrative mythological subjects.

The Etruscans emerged from the Villanovan culture. Due to the proximity and/or commercial contact to Etruria, other ancient cultures influenced Etruscan art during the Orientalizing period, such as Greece, Phoenicia, Egypt, Assyria and the Middle East. The Romans would later come to absorb the Etruscan culture into theirs but would also be greatly influenced by them and their art.

575480 BC Archaic period. Prosperity continued to grow, and Greek influence grew to the exclusion of other Mediterranean cultures, despite the two cultures coming into conflict as their respective zones of expansion met each other. The period saw the emergence of the Etruscan temple, with its elaborate and brightly painted terracotta decorations, and other larger buildings. Figurative art, including human figures and narrative scenes, grew more prominent. The Etruscans adopted stories from Greek mythology enthusiastically. Paintings in fresco begin to be found in tombs (which the Greeks had stopped making centuries before), and were perhaps made for some other buildings. The Persian conquest of Ionia in 546 saw a significant influx of Greek artist refugees, especially in Southern Etruria. Other earlier developments continued, and the period produced much of the finest and most distinctive Etruscan art.

The Etruscans were very accomplished sculptors, with many surviving examples in terracotta, both small-scale and monumental, bronze, and alabaster. However, there is very little in stone, in contrast to the Greeks and Romans. Terracotta sculptures from temples have nearly all had to be reconstructed from a mass of fragments, but sculptures from tombs, including the distinctive form of sarcophagus tops with near life-size reclining figures, have usually survived in good condition, although the painting on them has usually suffered. Small bronze pieces, often including sculptural decoration, became an important industry in later periods, exported to the Romans and others. See the "Metalwork" section below for these, and "Funerary art" for tomb art.

The frescoes are created by applying paint on top of fresh plaster, so that when the plaster dries the painting becomes part of the plaster, and consequently an integral part of the wall. Colors were created from ground up minerals of different colors and were then mixed to the paint. Fine brushes were made of animal hair.

Besides being producers in their own right, the Etruscans were the main export market for Greek pottery outside Greece, and some Greek painters probably moved to Etruria, where richly decorated vases were a standard element of grave inventories. It has been suggested that many or most elaborately painted vases were specifically bought to be used in burials, as a substitute, cheaper and less likely to attract robbers, for the vessels in silver and bronze that the elite would have used in life.

The Etruscans had a strong tradition of working in bronze from very early times, and their small bronzes were widely exported. Apart from cast bronze, the Etruscans were also skilled at the engraving of cast pieces with complex linear images, whose lines were filled with a white material to highlight them; in modern museum conditions with this filling lost, and the surface inevitably somewhat degraded, they are often much less striking and harder to read than would have been the case originally. This technique was mostly applied to the roundish backs of polished bronze mirrors and to the sides of cistae. A major centre for cista manufacture was Praeneste, which somewhat like early Rome was an Italic-speaking town in the Etruscan cultural sphere. Some mirrors, or mirror covers (used to protect the mirror's reflective surface) are in a low relief.