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Characteristics of Etruscan Art

The Eruscans were the most powerful group in Italy before Roman expansion. They had migrated from the Aegean area as early as the tenth century B.C. and settled on the west central coast of Italy. The history of Etruscan art falls into two main divisions; the Archaic period and the period of Maturity and Decline. The Achaic age was further subdivided into an earlier style from 800-500 B.C., in which the art shows marked ancient Oriental influences owing to strong ties with Asia Minor and Tyre, and a second influence from 500-400 B.C, when the Greek style became dominant. The Etruscans, however, never copied or imitated Greek art but retained their native artistic characteristics. The second chronological development, the period of Maturity and Decline (400-70 B.C), because in its late years indistinguishable from Roman art.

In Etruscan sculpture and related arts vivid realism and technical ability are evident. The Etruscans were skilled metalworkers, but many objects in other materials made use of forms better suited to metal. The materials of their sculpture were usually terra costa (remarkable giants hollow ceramic figures such as the “Warrior” in the Metropolitan Museum) and bronze (the “Capitoline Wolf”) rather than stone. Since the Etruscans, unlike the Greeks, practiced both cremation and inhumation, cinerary urns and sarcophagi were very common, most of the latter being crowned by full-sized figures reclining in relaxed, lifelike attitudes, not the inert prone effigies of medieval English tombs. Such works as the bronze “Chimaera,” ascribed as Etruscan in most books, were really the work of sixteenth century Italian sculptors and may not be taken seriously as examples of ancient art.

Importance of Etruscan Art

Before the emergence of Rome as a world power, the Etruscan served as the main source disseminating Hellenic ideas in Italy. The pictorial arts of the Etruscans were their main contribution to Roman artistic tradition, in addition to a few minor modifications in architectural planning such as the use of the podium (a high platform) for the protection of impermanent materials, no examples have come down to us. Archaeologist Nielsen’s reconstruction, however suggests the typical gabled hut shrine with portico of the Aegean area.