Ancient Etruscan Art

The Etruscan civilization situated in northern Italy thrived between the 9th and end centuries BC, producing figurative art at that time , following a strong tradition in sculpture. At the time, using a terracotta method, Etruscan figurative sculpture was exceptionally striking, as we see in their life-size sarcophagi or temples. Additional art approaches to note include wall paintings, cast bronze objects, and their metalworking, which is especially admired in their engraved bronze mirrors.


The timeline associated with Etruscan art deals with an array of phases that include the Archiac Period and the Classical Period. Between 800 and 650 BC, the Etruscans entered the “Oriental” (also known as “Orientalizing”) Period, which signified a couple of cultural exchanges with other Mediterranean civilization of their time. The Ancient Greeks were especially influential during this time. It seems that the figurative tradition linked to Etruscan art seems to have come as a result of encountering Greek models.


Between 650 and 500 BC, the Archaic Period arrived, which showcased Ionic and Corinthian influences in art. An increased amount of exchanges took place regarding the Etruscan society, where fresh artistic techniques emerged. The painting of the time became highly developed and the Etruscans began to embrace painted sculpture made from terracotta and vase-painting. From 500 to 300 BC, the Classical Period took lace, which still showed a great deal of Greek influence. At this time, a decrease in produced art as seen, as an increasingly amount of political and military turmoil began to surface (both internally and externally). At this time, bronzes from Vulci were pretty dominant at this time. Between 300 and 100 BC, a late phase in art was seen, which became absorbed into the growing Roman culture.


For the Etruscans, art and religion were quite important, as their art often carried religious undertones and became quite connected to religious thought and practice. Overall, certain themes emerged in art. For example, the Etruscan view of the afterlife was pretty bleak and this showed in their creative endeavors. The Etruscan gods were seen as hostile beings that were bent on creating misfortune; therefore, Etruscan religion centered on varying interpretations of will. To further elaborate on the point, the bulk of Etruscan art remains are found in cemetery excavations, most notably seen in Tarquinia, Orvieto, and Norchia.


Etruscan sculpture is highly regarded and highlighted a strong influence by ancient Greek works and techniques. Some of the most famous pieces connected to the Etruscans includes the “Sarcophagus of the Spouses” (now kept at the National Etruscan Museam; the “Apollo Helios,” “Arringatore (uncovered in Umbria); “Apollo of Veii” (located in the temple at Portanaccio in Veii); “Chimera of Arezzo,” and “Capitoline Wolf.”


As you explore Etruscan painting, you will find that the majority of pieces are expressed as frescoes found in graves. They are not considered as important as other works of art, mostly because the artistic level of the pieces are not as developed. Fresco was the most commonly seen painting technique of the Etruscans.