Etruscan Art

1. Describe the formal and iconographic characteristics of Etruscan art.
2. Explain the forms, materials, and construction of Etruscan architecture.
3. Describe the relationship between Etruscan and Roman art and history.
4. Identify the influence of intercultural contact on Etruscan art and architecture.
5. Discuss the materials and processes used to create Etruscan art.


1. Historic backdrop
2. Timeline
3. Who were the Etruscans?
  • propensity for sailing
  • love for collecting
  • role of metallurgy (example: Capitoline Wolf)
4. Major centers (4)
5. Life in the city-state
  • general characteristics (example: Perugia: Porta Augusta)

  • Etruscan temple design
    • Portonaccio Temple
    • Other temple models / plans
  • Etruscan figure sculpture
    • Apollo of Veii

2. CERVETERI (Banditaccia Necropolis)
  • Concept of death and burial
  • Tumulus mounds (exterior views)
  • Tomb of the Reliefs (interior view)
  • Sarcophagus with Reclining Couple

3. TARQUINIA – 3 tombs
  • Tomb of the Leopards
  • Tomb of Hunting and Fishing
  • Tomb of the Lioness

1. Timeline
  • Monarch replaced by Republican ideals
  • Rome overwhelms Etruria
2. Other work
  • Ficoroni Cista
  • Sarcophagus of Lars Pulena
  • Aule Metele
  • Chimera of Arezzo


NOTE: For a link to a Menu/Page that contains larger versions of most of the following images, please click here.

Historic backdrop
  • Where did they come from? (Two theories)
    1. Indigenous to Italy (but their language is totally unique; unlike any others)
    2. Maybe they migrated from modern day Turkey (ca. 760-750 BCE) due to Assyrians (but why wouldn’t they stop in Greece?)
      …Because they were master metal smiths. Greece lacked the ore deposits; Italy gave them everything they needed.
  • Dual Citizenship (extremely unique concept)
  • Fatalism inherent in Etruscan literature - thought they would last only 600-700 years (in 280 BCE, they were assimilated w/ Romans).

2200 BCE to 509 BCE (they lived with the Romans from 800 BCE to 509 BCE.

So, who were the Etruscans?
Screen shot 2012-10-02 at 12.49.37 AM.pngafdeeryi.jpg

1. Barbarians! They were the pirates! (c/c to Greeks and eagerness to sail the Aegean)
    • During 9th/8th C. = traders abroad / highly skilled seafarers
    • During 6th C.
      • controlled much of northern and central Italy
      • Etruscan kings ruled
      • The Greeks, however, were the "innovators" in the Mediterranean
      • their geographical location = the lush area between Tiber / Arno rivers - present-day Tuscany (Tusci, what the Romans called them).

2. Collectors
    • Amber (material from the North (Baltic regions of Europe)
    • Pottery - containing wine, olive oil, etc. but indoctrinating them with Greek mythology!
      • there are more Greek vases found in Italy than in Greece!
      • Greek pottery, culture, political structure, ways of thinking
    • Mirrors
      • found in graves (predominantly those of women)
      • back of mirrors engraved with Greek mythological scenes (theme usually specifically centered around the "loves of the gods / goddesses")
3. They were master metal smiths! (iron, tin, copper, silver)

Capitoline Wolf

Questions that might be asked of this work:
  1. How does this work express the Etruscan design?
  2. What does this image portray?
  3. How does the technique enhance the design?

  • She-wolf - metal / lost wax process
  • Ignore 2 infants (added in Renaissance)
  • Anatomy - skillful handling!
  • Alertness / awareness; we see tension in wolf (expression, claws, tail, raised fur)
  • She is a protector / guardian
  • Fur - stylized (in fact, this is a perfect example of artistic handling that is both realistic and stylized)


  • abundance in : iron, tin, copper, silver
  • Repousse
  • Granulation
  • function
  • influence?

Life in the city-state
  • Etruscans lived in city-states, much like the Greek polis.
  • Their cities were defended by brick fortifications.
  • Tarquinia was their capital city.
  • Their homes were built of brick and wood, so nothing remains. We know what they look like because models were built and placed in tombs

Major centers
  1. Veii
  2. Cerveteri
  3. Tarquinia
  4. Vulci

City / states
  1. city / state structure - about 12 (note: other tribes occupied Italy at the same time)
  2. never united; just coexisted
  3. unified only through language and religious beliefs
  4. this lack of political cohesion eventually made then vulnerable

Porta Augusta

  • city gate - reason for the strength / fortification
  • what elements of architecture do you see here that are new?
  • echoes of Greek architecture?
  • one of the few Etruscan architectural examples that survive
  • citadel - protective wall surrounding city
  • followed grid plan (later adapted by the Romans)
    • divided into quarters
    • streets running N-S, E-W
  • VOCAB:
    • arch
    • voussior
    • keystone
    • springing
    • pilaster


Portonaccio Temple

Etruscan temple design
  • Materials - they lacked good quarries
  • Mud-brick structures, wooden columns (broke down over time)
  • Terracotta figures (somewhat fragile)
  • Foundations made from stone - and is that which survives today

How we know anything about the Temple plans…
  1. Archeological remains of stone foundations (including terracotta fragments)
  2. Vitruvius - who wrote about the Etruscans (in 1st C. BCE)

Etruscan temples (models)

Greek Temple vs. Etruscan Temple (compare / contrast)

ACCESS: single, fixed entrance; restricted to front of temple
  • narrow stairway onto podium (only part made of stone)
  • note: walls on sides and back - not colonnade
  • deep porch
    • large overhanging porch roof
      • wooden with terracotta tiles
      • occupies approx. one-half of podium
    • The roof implies "function"
SHAPE: square (roughly)
ORDERS (columns): variations on both Doric (*) and Ionic
  • fewer columns & therefore more widely spaced than found in a Greek facade
  • size (approx 3 times a man's height or more)
SCULPTURE: terracotta,, moved to rooftop, full of dramatic / explosive action
INTERIOR: 3 cellas (chief gods: Tina, Uni, Menrva)

*Doric version = “Tuscan” (as per Vitruvius)
  1. wooden, unfluted columns (see Stokstad book diagram)
  2. simplified entablature
  3. slightly modified capital
  4. addition of column base

Rendering of "Tuscan" column / order

  • Compare / contrast the Etruscan temple to the Greek temple (see below)
    temple comparison_greek_etruscan_apah.jpg

Apollo of Veii
ca. 510 BCE

Q: What elements of this work's style is indebted to other cultures that existed at the same time?
  • The Etruscans adopted the Greek divinity structure, but adapted / patterned it to suit their particular needs.
  • Here, the figure can be identified as Apollo. The scene is taken from the "12 Labors of Herakles" (G)
  • Apollo is striding forward to confront Hercules (movement); He is full of dramatic and explosive action (E)
  • Wearing a draped mantle (E); note the "wet drapery" - this date precedes the Greeks' use of wet drapery substantially)
  • Hair - stylized / somewhat decorative (G)
  • An archaic smile is present (G)
    • note other Greek examples around same time:
      • 560 BCE - Calf Bearer
      • 530 BCE - Anavysos Kouros
  • Figure most likely contained paint at one time (G)
  • Made of terracotta (baked earth) (E)
  • Note - pillar (decorative) was necessary for its stabilizing function (E)
    • Apex of rooftop, depicting one of the 12 labors of Hercules (terracotta light - allowed for this)
    • This rooftop is heavily decorated - figure sculpture and plant ornamentation.
    • acroterion (singular); acroteria (plural) - refers to the roof [acro = high / above; teria = area / territory]


Banditaccia Necropolis
(necrapolis = city of the dead)

7th to 2nd centuries BCE

  • compare the tumulus to tholos tombs (Treasury of Arteus)
  • both were earthen-covered, but these were underground and multi-chambered.
  • the sarcophagus would have been housed in a tomb like this.
  • Greeks - simple graves marked with grave (tombs rare!)
  • Etruscans - elaborate tombs that may resemble house (domestic in nature)
  • note: whereas the Greeks made elaborate stone temples / shrines to honor their gods, the Etruscans seemed to have placed such monumental efforts towards their tombs (their temples were made from mere mud-brick and wood).
  • some of these have actually been 130 feet in diameter

Tomb of the Reliefs (interior view)
Cerveteri, Italy
3rd century BCE

Questions that might be asked about this work:
  1. Describe how this it made?
  2. What do its contents suggests about the culture that made it?

  • Etruscan belief in the afterlife is similar to Egypt in that they felt that the tomb would be an eternal home for the dead. To make them more comfortable, pots and other items found in the home are carved into the walls.
  • Note the figure of the 3-headed dog. Might be reference to Cerberus (guardian to the gate to the underworld).
  • Domestic items - pots, pans, family dogs (?), etc. - carved into bedrock (Tufa - dark limestone)
  • This relief sculpture would have been painted as well.
  • Optimistic in nature, unique - for sure!
  • Compare to the rock cut tombs of Egypt (see Beni Hasan)
  • Compare / contrast the Cerveteri tumulus to the Mycenaean tholos (see below)
    compare_cerveteri tumulus_mycenaean tholos_apah.jpg

Sarcophagus with Reclining Couple
from Cerveteri, Italy
ca. 520 BCE
painted terracotta
45 1/2 in. high

Questions that might be asked about this work:
  1. Do you know what the word "sarcophagus" means?
  2. How does this work reflect Etruscan society?
  3. Why is this work significant?

What’s Etruscan about this (the Cerveteri sarcophagus)?
  1. Hair - looks like ropes draped over the shoulders.
  2. Beard - this is how Etruscans wore facial hair.
  3. Slight smile - sometimes found in Etruscans art (much like the Greek "Archaic smile")
  4. Eyes - almond-shaped -- careful attention is placed on the eyes; upper and lower lids.
  5. Reclined - they are represented as being at a banquet.
  6. The representation of a man and his wife represented together -- most decidedly NOT Greek! Greek men and women would never be seen together at a banquet.
  7. Gesticulation of hands - talking (implication of conversation at banquet)
  8. Terracotta (cast in 4 parts) - probably not portrait, but generic sarcophagus. Also, consider the practical aspects associated with this. It is more feasible to create, cast and fire 4 modestly sized pieces, than one large one. In fact, the kilns were only so big.
  9. Again - like the Apollo figure, these too would have been painted at one time.
  • Compare / contrast the (see below)
    compare_etruscan couple vs egyptian couple_apah.jpg

Let's explore three (3) tombs...

1) Tomb of the Leopards
Tarquinia, Italy, ca. 480–470 BCE

  • Tarquinian tombs were not mounded like those in Cerventeri
  • Note the similarity in iconography (below) - guardian-like

Screen shot 2012-10-02 at 5.44.06 AM.png

2) Tomb of Hunting & Fishing
Tarquinia, Italy, ca. 530–520 BCE

Questions that might be asked about this work:
  1. What is the medium?
  2. What does this image portray?
  3. How does this show the Etruscan artistic nature?

3) Tomb of the Lioness

  • Well-preserved paintings in tombs.
  • Show that just beyond the end of life is a bright, happy world in death.
  • Notice the active role of women.
  • How would you describe these figures?
  • Does this remind you of a previous culture?

Historical background:

753 BCE - Legend of the Shewolf, The Capitoline Wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus (founders of Rome).

Monarch replaced by Republican ideals…
509 BCE - Romans expelled TarquinniusSuperbus (last of the Etruscan Kings)
474 BCE - Cumaen Greeks & Hieron I (Syracuse [Sicily]) formed alliance and defeat Etruscan fleet off Cumae, ending their domination of the sea

Rome overwhelms Etruria…
396 BCE - Rome defeats Veii
351 BCE - Tarquinia and Rome - peace; but, in…
Early 3rd C., Tarquinia annexed by Rome
273 BCE - Cerventeri conquered by Rome

Ficoroni Cista
late 4th C.
  • cista - singular; cistae - plural
  • these are cylindrical containers for women’s toilet items
  • they served as gifts for both living and deceased (found in graves)
  • industry centered in Palestrina (Ancient Praenesta)
  • bears inscription indicating ‘Rome’ as the workshop.

Perugia - Port Augusta
  • An alliance is formed
  • In the 3rd C. - Perugia - formed alliance with Rome - spared destruction of other Etruscan cities.
  • We see an arch here, but bear in mind that the Etruscans & Romans did not INVENT the arch.

Porta Marzia (Gate of Mars)
Perugia, Italy
2nd century BCE

  • arches - not new (Meso., Greece used arches); but, the Etruscans and (later) Romans were the first to truly develop this concept into a major architectural element.
    • gateways
    • free-standing “triumphal arches"
  • this is the upper part of gate - preserved; imbedded in a later wall
  • arcuated opening - spanning an opening (remember corbelling, post & lintel, arch)
  • voussoirs - trapezoidal stones that form arch; displacing weight from top onto the jambs.
  • keystone - uppermost stone set into place
  • jambs
  • engaged columns [also called pilasters] - embedded into structure (here they frame the arch)
  • * Greek influence, but eclecticism prevalent

Sarcophagus of Lars Pulena
from Tarquinia, Italy
early second century BCE
material: Tufa
Size: 6’ 6” long
Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Tarquinia)
  • compare / contrast to Archaic Cerveteri sarcophagus
    compare_etruscan sarcophagus_early vs late_apah.jpg
  • Hellenistic versions, as seen here…
    • made from local stone
    • carved / not cast
  • Tarquinia - leading production center
  • a very different feeling prevails in this version / depiction…
    • no wife, no banquet
    • somber expression replaces earlier Archaic smile
    • generic / NOT a portrait!
    • symptomatic of economic and political decline.
    • * Notice scene on coffin proper: deceased shown in underworld, being attacked by 2 Charuns (Etruscan death demons) swinging lethal hammers.
    • * Lars shown with partially unfurled scroll - record of life’s accomplishments (dwelling on past, not the future).
    • This is a HUGE contrast to the earlier Cerveteri sarcophagus (depicting husband & wife staring into the distance, the hopeful future)
    • Here, gloom prevails, and Lars seems to lack the confidence once assumed by Etruscans.

Aule Metele (Arringatore)
from Cortona, near Lake Trasimeno
Italy, early first century BCE
Bronze, 5’ 7” high
Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Florence)

Questions that might be asked of this work:
  1. What is the date?
  2. What is the medium?
  3. What does it illustrate?
  4. Why is this work significant?
  5. How does this work reflect Etruscan society?


  • Notice: large scale bronze casting still taking place (despite societal decline)
  • Aule Metele - his nickname was “orator” (striking contrast to Lars)
  • self-confident individual
  • Etruscan in name, but nothing else
  • The so-called Social War (1st Century BCE) ended in 89 BCE, with the conferring of Roman citizenship on all of Italy’s inhabitants.
  • Aule’s name inscribed on hem of garment
    • this is a toga!
    • high laced sandals
    • these are the trappings of a Roman magistrate!
    • Aule Metele and his compatriots become Roman (& Etruscan art, too, becomes Roman art).

Chimera of Arezzo
from the Arezzo, Italy
1st half of 4th century BCE
size: 31.5 in. high

Misc Questions (relating to material in unit):
  1. The land in which the Etruscans settled (mainland Italy) was rich in what substance?
  2. The Etruscans, therefore, excelled in what type of hand-wrought area?
  3. The Etruscan region of Cerveteri contained tombs for the deceased. What is the term used to describe the typical tomb here?
  4. Describe the material favored by the Etruscans for their figural sculpture.
  5. Where might one have commonly viewed the figural sculpture created by the Etruscan artists?
  6. What material(s) did the Etruscans use to construct their temples?
  7. What happened to the Etruscan civilization?
  8. What was D. H. Lawrence's Etruscan Places (1929)?
  9. Briefly describe Etruscan tomb painted interiors.
  10. What failure made the Etruscans easy prey?
  11. Describe the mineral wealth of Etruria and its impact on Etruscan society.
  12. Define granulation.
  13. Describe Etruscan temples.
  14. What horrified Greco-Roman authors about Etruscan women?
  15. What effect did the alliance of the Cumaean Greeks and Hieron I of Syracuse have on Etruria?
  16. What are cistae?
  17. What is the current thinking regarding Etruscan art as merely derivative?
  18. How and why the architecture and art of the Etruscans is different from that of the Greeks?
  19. How did the funerary customs of the Etruscans affect their art work?
  20. What the materials, methods and techniques were used in Etruscan wall painting?
  21. How does the subject matter in Etruscan painting differ from Greek paintings and ceramic design?
  22. What does Etruscan wall painting tell us about Etruscan life?
  23. How is this different from the wall paintings of the Egyptians? of the Aegean cultures?
  24. Define these terms:
    • Fibula
    • Repousse
    • Pectoral
    • Necropolis
    • Tumulus
    • Tufu
    • Voussoirs
    • Pilasters
    • Chimera