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Who the Etruscans Were and Why Their Art is Important
D.H. Lawrence in his witty essay Etruscan Places written in 1929, explains that, "The Etruscans, as everyone knows, were the people who occupied the middle of Italy in early Roman days, and whom the Romans, in their usual neighborly fashion, wiped out entirely." Etruscan art before D.H. Lawrence's essay had generally been viewed as a debased form of Greek art. D.H. Lawrence described the general feeling toward Etruscan art, "most people despise everything B.C. that isn't Greek, for the good reason that it ought to be Greek if it isn't." The truth is that Etruscan art was and is extremely important for the influence it had over the Roman art and architecture. We know the Etruscans settled in the area of Italy still known as Tuscany today, but we don't know where the Etruscans originated. It is still a great mystery to scholars; ancient scholars even disagreed on their origins. Herodotus claimed that they cam from Lydia in Asia Minor, but Dionysius of Halicarnassus claimed that they were native Italians. The Etruscans were skilled seafarers and traded widely.
This tomb was named for its excavators and was at Cerveteri. It is the tomb of a woman who was from a wealthy Etruscan family in about the middle of the seventh century B.C. It was filled with bronze cauldrons and gold jewelry, made by the Etruscans, but with a style known as Orientalizing. An example of this style can be seen in the picture at left. This picture shows what is known as a fibula (clasp or safety pin) it was found in the tomb with the woman and was used to fasten her gown at the shoulder. This item was made in the Italic tradition, but the lions on the gold surface are very obviously borrowed from the orient.
Because of the materials the Etruscans used to build their temples we only have the foundations, and Vitruvius' (a Roman archite ct) account of the temples designs. The representative Etruscan temple resembles the Greek gable-roofed temple, but was made of wood and sun-dried brick with terracotta decoration instead of stone. The Etruscan temple had columns only on one side, which created a porch-like entrance, which set this side off as the temple's front, which was unlike the Greek temple. The Etruscan temple was mainly used to house statues of Etruscan God's. Statues made of terracotta were also placed on the peak of the Etruscan temple roof. The picture below is a model of what we believe an Etruscan Temple would have looked like.
Etruscan Statues show some of the best examples of the energy and excitement that characterize Etruscan art. Bright paint, swelling contours, animated faces, and gesticulations distinguish the statues. The statue at left is Apulu (Apollo) from the roof of the Portonaccio Temple i n Veii, Italy. It is believed to have been made around 510-500 B.C. and is 5'11" high. Notice the rippling folds of his garment and the way the statue leans into its forward movement. In comparison to the statue at right which is a Greek statue of Apollo made in 460 B. C. The Greek statue is much more calm looking, as if he is going to be in motion rather than in the process of movement.
Painted Murals (Fresco)
My thological figures are extremely uncommon in murals found in tombs. The most common theme is of banqueting couples with servants serving the meal and musicians playing. The people in the murals all are making exaggerated gestures. The next most common theme is that of Etruscans enjoying nature. One mural depicts youthful hunters aiming slingshots at colorful birds. An example of a mural is shown below.
Etruscan Pottery followed closely the style of Greek pottery , but the people were more lively much like the statues. One type of pottery that seems to be very unique to Etruscans is bucchero (BOO-ker-oh). It became common in the between the seventh and fifth century B.C. and is black and shiny from polishing. The black color was made by firing in an atmosphere charged with carbon monoxide instead of oxygen. Many people believe that bucchero was made to look like silver pots but were for those that couldn't afford the price of silver. However, bucchero is believed to have been almost as expensive as silver. Left is an example of the many types of Bucchero ware.
The Etruscans were the masters of bronze sculpture and were praised by the Greeks and Romans for their skill. Sadly we have only a few examples of the Etruscans skill with bronze because after Rome occupied the area many of the bronze statues were sent to Rome to be melted down and made into bronze coins. The statues like much of Etruscan art are characterized by their lively features. One vivid example of the Etruscans artistry is the Chimera of Arezzo shown at right. The Chimera is a Greek monster with a lion's head and body and a serpent's tail. A second head of a goat grows out of the left side of the body. This statue is made in the action of attack, the skin is stretched tightly over the muscles and it looks up into the face of an unseen adversary.