Notebook, 1993-

The Villanovan and Orientalizing Periods
Introduction -- The Villanovan Style and Geometric Art -- Orientalizing Art in Etruria -- Figurative & Non-Figurative Art --

The Early & Middle Archaic Period
Introduction -- Transitional Reliefs and Wall Paintings -- Literary Aspects of Archaic Art -- Middle Archaic Painting and Metal Reliefs -- The Schools of Tarquinia and Caere --

The Late Archaic Period
Painting and Metalwork

The Classical Era: The Fifth Century
Wall Paintings and Stone Reliefs

[From: Brendel, Otto F. Etruscan Art. New York: Penquin Books. 1978.]

Etruscan Art - Notes

Part One - The Villanovan and Orientalizing Periods
[Etruscan Art on the Italian Peninsula]

Chapter 1 Introduction

The Problem of Etruscan Art
The arts of the past must be measured by the variousness and quality of their creations; that is, by their contributions to our total store of experience and self-knowledge, as a cultural species. No doubt from the point of view the art of the Etruscans constitutes a very interesting chapter; it also forms one of the most problematic in the ancient Mediterranean. For the Etruscans as a people we still know but little, and even less of their origin. Only one circumstance stands out and lends a unique importance to the Etruscan materials. It seems that from the beginning Etruscan art was a product of the Italian peninsula--at least so far no trace of it has come to light in any part of the world other than Italy, except such specimens as were exported from Etruria. For all we know this art was thriving in Italian centres. Yet more often than not it followed standards of imagery and representation which developed outside Italy: in Greece.

It is this circumstance which causes so much uncertainty regarding not only the art but the entire civilization of ancient Etruria. On the whole, Etruscan is a branch of the civilization which we call classical. Its motivations, however, and the spirit behind the images were not always the same as in Greece. A special ingredient of style and intention seems active in many Etruscan creations which may well puzzle the observer, precisely because it expresses itself so often in the familiar forms of Greek art, while nevertheless the outcome is not wholly Greek. This fact suggests to many critics an underlying attitude not only different from, but actually contrary to, the Greek. . . . It's very closeness to the Greek makes Etruscan art difficult to judge. . . . [p. 15]

The Discovery of Italy
Greeks and Phoenicians. There can be no doubt that the Mediterranean high civilization established itself in Italy somewhat later than in Greece, and that a transfer of culture from east to west was involved in this process. When exactly the process began it is difficult to say; certainly it did not gain momentum before the eighth century. [Unless otherwise indicated, dates are B .C. throughout]. Neither has it been possible so far to discern its details with equal certainty in all parts of the peninsula. We do know, however, that the comparative isolation of prehistoric Italy did not end by a single event or a uniform process. Different events in various regions contributed to her cultural transformation, with results which proved fundamental for all later history:[1] that is to say, a change of cultural and social status occurred and more or less affected all Italy, if in various ways. The most important symptom was the rise of new cities, organized as autonomous states, which laid the foundation for an urban civilization of the type already flourishing in the eastern Mediterranean. While the rather sudden urbanization of the ancient Italian culture thus appears as the basic fact, three regions stand out as culturally distinctly different in regard to the manner in which the process was accomplished. They are the area of Greek colonization in the south, including Sicily; the area later called Etruscan, in central Italy; and between these two, the Latin territory with the city of Rome. The low lands north of the Apennines, the valley of the Po, at first remained outside the orbit of these events.

For an outline of art in ancient Italy it is essential that we first understand the nature of the differences between these regional developments, as well as the community that existed between them. Of the three major areas affected, the southern offers the clearest picture. The following features emerge as significant. The urbanization of the Italian south came about entirely as a result of immigration from abroad. Whether or not the Phoenician settlements along the west coast of Sicily made the beginning is still a moot question;[2] on the whole their cultural effect remained negligible compared to the impact of the Greek cities. The earliest Greek town--the city of Cumae--was founded in the north of the area around 750 B.C. [3] Others of later fame followed after the middle of the eighth century, in the southern peninsula as well as in eastern and southern Sicily. Their subsequent histories and deadly rivalry with the Phoenicians lie beyond the scope of this book. What matters is that, seen as a whole, the process of higher civilization in this area appears as a transfer of culture by foreign emissaries, and by concerted effort. The Greeks were more numerous; and eventually their culture prevailed in south Italy.

The Greek settlers arrived in organized groups--this was possible largely owing to advances in the science of navigation made during the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.--and they came with the intention to stay. Their cities were founded with an eye to the seaborne trade which permanently connected them with the motherland; and they established themselves amidst a rather backward, 'prehistoric' native population whom they utilized, but hardly transformed culturally. The contrast of language between settlers and colonists lasted for a long time, and the cultural lag of the hinterland in comparison to the superimposed high culture of the trading cities was never quite made up. All in all, we perceive the picture of a truly colonial civilization; that is, a consciously directed extension of Greek culture into Italian territory. As is usual in such conditions, native peasant culture and foreign city civilization came to exist abruptly side by side. But the cities remained Greek, in point of language as well as culture. Their art, which soon began to flower, remained Greek art and must be described as such, notwithstanding certain local characteristics.

Etruria[4] The situation in central Italy is far less clear. There, also, towns arose and perhaps were founded by a planning effort: the Etruscan cities, of which Tarquinia was the most renowned and possibly the oldest, although nearby Caere [now Cerveteri] and others were hardly more recent. Soon a string of new cities was moving northward along the Etruscan coast to Populonia. Somewhat later the urban civilization of the coastlands expanded into the interior, founding in the Umbrian hills Etruscan fortresses such as Perugia. The Etruscan towns like the Greek, were probably organized as sovereign communities, but none of them quite attained the free status of a Greek polis. Eventually they formed a close alliance amounting to a confederate state--the first of its kind in western history.

What precisely caused the rise of these cities and who founded them, it is now difficult to say. In historical times the habitants of the territory both in and outside the cities spoke Etruscan, a language not known elsewhere, which died out towards the end of the pre-Christian era, just as now certain Gaelic dialects are about to disappear in parts of England and France. The origin neither of this language nor of the people who spoke it can at present be determined. But although a cultural contrast between town and country existed here no less than in the south, and generally has remained typical of Italy to this day, it seems that in Etruria the spoken language often established a bond of communication between the cities and the rural population, of a kind not found in the ancient Greek colonies of southern Italy.

Naturally, the most pressing problem before modern research is to assess the strength and importance of foreign immigration, and to localize its homeland. On this question opinions were divided in antiquity; they still are. An ancient tradition expounded already by Herodotus has it that the Etruscans came to Italy from Asia Minor, but there was no certain knowledge about the matter, and other theories likewise claimed attention; for example that the Etruscans [p. 17] had entered Italy from the north. Nor can our ancient sources give us a reliable indication as to the time when the Etruscan cities were founded. In modern terms the Etruscan question must primarily be treated as a linguistic one; and here it must be noted from the outset that to its solution the study of the artefacts cannot contribute very much.

If on the other hand we base ourselves solely on the archaeological findings, a fairly consistent picture seems now to emerge. In prehistoric times, until the so-called Iron Age [in which we still live], coastal Etruria appears to have been a rather thinly settled region. A new period of cultivation in this area started with a considerable population movement, which from the mountainous inland provinces of central Italy directed itself towards the then comparatively waste coastlands. There is a suddenness about this immigration into a previously neglected shore-country which in some respects suggests comparison with the American gold rush of the eighteen-forties. What exactly attracted the immigrants we can only guess. Deposits of metal were probably one of the reasons-the land around Piombino is still an active mining area. By no means must we picture these people as complete savages or paupers. They possessed knowledge of agriculture and metallurgy, and the products of their crafts, soon perfected in their new homesteads, were of a specific style. The characteristic art which they came to develop is now generally known as Villanovan.

The exact time of this migration also presents a matter of dispute. Early Iron Age groups were on the move in many parts of Italy around and after the year 1000 - indeed a degree of easy mobility seems characteristic of them. However, according to present knowledge it seems unlikely that any of their movements came to a halt in Etruria or Latium much before the eighth century, an era from which dates most Villanovan art in Etruria. In general one has the impression that around and after the year 800 the western coast of central Italy exercised the greatest attraction for settlers from the mountains not far off. Possibly the discovery or better exploitation of the local metal deposits attracted foreign traders and native tribesmen simultaneously, offering a prospect of easy money for both, and certainly a chance of cultural improvement from the latter. It does not seem unreasonable to connect the sudden re-evaluation of the coastal stretches in Etruria with the increasing importance of seaborne trade and traffic which at the same time prompted the foundation of Greek colonies along the southern coasts of Italy.

However, the new culture which rapidly sprang up in this territory can hardly be described as colonial. The Etruscan cities, like their Greek counterparts, looked towards the sea. But the oldest, such as Tarquinia, were founded on suitable high plateaus, with convenient outlets to the sea itself, thus combing the characteristics of Hill town and harbour towns: they were not merely fortified harbours like the Greek settlements. At least at the beginning, their populations must largely have drawn on the natives from inland, and their earliest art, which was Villanovan, in all cases about which we can judge was not imported from overseas, and has no counterpart in the eastern Aegean. Nothing in our Etruscan finds indicates an initial wholesale transfer of culture from the eastern Mediterranean, or a direct and continuous connection with a definite motherland outside Italy, such as one would expect from organized groups of foreign colonists. Therefore the archaeological evidence does not favour the assumption of any large-scale immigration from the sea--only of trade. Colonial in the precise sense of the word were the Greek cities of Italy alone.

When during the seventh century imported materials became more plentiful in central Italy, the leading cities of Etruria were already in existence. There are indications that Aegean traders had reached the Tyrrhenian coast before that time, but only after the close of the eighth century did they come more regularly, as we know from the objects which they brought. Apparently in Etruria the Phoenicians arrived first, the Greeks later. In historical times the Etruscans themselves were active traders. The prevalence of objects from the Phoenician orbit of culture has always been noticed among the foreign articles imported in to early Etruria--it is indeed a characteristic feature of the Etruscan civilization, especially in its so-called Orientalizing stage, of which more most be said later on. By contrast, the contemporary materials known from the Greek cities show a more homogeneous cultural pattern: the overwhelming majority of the finds are Greek, by origin or at least by style. In early Etruria on the other hand Greek and Phoenician influences soon began to compete, and the result was a rather varied pattern of culture. It is true that here, just as in the Greek colonies, the imported examples of eastern artefacts exercised their influence chiefly in the cities; but they were put to the service of a society which itself was neither Greek nor Phoenician. Hence the fact mentioned above, that the Etruscan cities did not so much as the Greek turn their back to the hinterland. Their common language, Etruscan, and the popular Villanovan art testify to an initial basic community between town and country, the social differences notwithstanding which here, too, came to separate the urban upper strata from the rural population.

In this way, it now appears, the Etruscan culture formed: not as the extension of a single mother-civilization but from the cross-currents of several contemporary civilizations. It grew on the spot, under the impact of the newly established trade with the east. Not unlike a modern nation, we find historical Etruria sharing the fundamentals of her culture with other high civilizations, while at the same time exhibiting significant regional characteristics. For here, too, the decisive event was a transfer of standards from the high civilizations of the east--Greek as well as oriental--to the new lands of Italy; and, as in southern Italy, the eighth century reveals itself as the crucial period, when the foundations were laid for all future developments in the area. Early trading posts along the coast may well have included groups of permanent foreign settlers. It is likely that the presence in a mixed population of a class of immigrants of this type first established the mercantile interests of the new communities, but we cannot be certain about this. What the archaeological evidence shows is that in consequence of their commercial contacts the Etruscan cities rose to wealth and power. Yet no single oriental country or Greek polis--only the civilization of the eastern Mediterranean in its entirety--can be regarded as the mother of Etruscan culture. In her dealings with the Aegean civilizations from which her own culture sprang, Etruria mostly assumed a taking and rarely held a giving part. But although her cultural status may be called regional, or perhaps provincial, in the outcome her civilization was something unique.[p. 19]

Rome and Latium[5]. The third region of Italy which calls for our attention comprises the comparatively small territory of Latium, with the city of Rome. According to tradition Rome was founded in 753 B.C. This may be no more than a legend, but it can hardly be far from the truth: in the chain of events here before us, the historical logic implied in it becomes at once evident. The salient point is that in Latium, also, the new chapter begins with the rise of a city; this fact immediately connects the founding of Rome--whatever the term implies--with the parallel and contemporary urbanization of Etruria in the north, as well as the Greek colonization in the south. Obviously the origin of Rome falls in line with that entire trend which during the eighth century established Italy as a pioneer land for eastern settlers and traders, and brought her within the orbit of the higher civilizations. For us it signalizes the formation of a third cultural province along the ancient civilizations of Italy.

In more than one respect the ensuing situation in Latium resembles the conditions of early Etruria. Here, too, we find groups of inland people moving from their hills--in this case the Alban and Sabine mountains--towards the nearby western coast. In Latium we even have a literary tradition supporting the archaeological evidence. Different from Etruria, however, were the presence of additional early settler from overseas remains at least likely, there can be no question of immigration from the sea in [p. 19] Latium. The first tangible remnants of Latin culture are entirely of the Italian Early Iron Age type. Two trends can be discerned, and perhaps indicate that two different groups of native culture met in this region. One involved a cremating-people, represented especially by their typical ceramics; the other produced a technically similar but stylistically divergent kind of pottery and simple metal-ware. The latter group practiced inhumation in tombs called fosse; and because their characteristic implements were mostly found with these burials, theirs became known as the Latin Fossa Culture. The cremating groups is related to the Villanovans of Etruria; the Fossa ceramics have their antecedents among certain local products of southern Italy. Both, however, were the outcome of typically Italian developments. Imported articles are extremely rare in early Latium. This civilization was even less colonial than the Etruscan.[6]

The subsequent history of Rome is not at issue here, but the relations between the two cultural provinces of Latium and Etruria require a brief explanation, especially with regard to art. Characteristic of Latium is its comparatively isolated cultural growth, even at a time when Greek colonists and eastern traders had already set their mark clearly on the cultural life of South Italy and Etruria. The romantic notion held by the later Romans that their ancestors were a people of shepherds and cowmen was not altogether without substance. Perhaps conditions in Etruria would have remained on a similar level of rustic frugality had it not been for the intervention of these seafarers and traders from the east. Early Rome apparently had no such visitors. At first there is hardly any evidence of active interest in the sea and its traffic. The extreme scarcity of imported materials remains characteristic of Roman archaeology not only in th eighth but throughout the following century. Nowhere in Italy occurred the transition from prehistoric agriculture to classical mercantilism in a manner so comparatively undisturbed, almost reluctant, as in Latium. The Etruscan splendour and luxury of the seventh century have no counterpart in Rome. Perhaps it was not before the Etruscan monarchy established itself, towards the end of the seventh century, that a merchant aristocracy formed in Rome, as in other cities of the ancient world.

Yet early Rome, located on the main artery of overland communication between Etruria and the Greek south, was not wholly without connections in either direction. The bridle path leading from north to south, which crossed the Tiber below the Palatine hill, may not have been sufficient to carry much merchandise, but it certainly brought contacts and ideas. Judged by its material vestiges only, early Rome might seem a backward place indeed. As an organized community, a city-state, it appears to be quite on a level with the new cities of Italy. In fact it may well be the political reorganization of a primitive community, rather than an original act of settlement, to which later generations referred as the 'founding' of Rome. Especially when it became clear that Rome was to be the controlling centre of all Latium, the essentially modern character of the new state was revealed. Rome was then more like a Greek city-state, a polis, than perhaps any of the Etruscan cities. This fact, and the difference of language, may explain why Rome never completely became an Etruscan town, even when it was ruled by Etruscan dynasties. It was never absorbed in the Etruscan league; therefore it remained a potential centre of gravity, spared for the future.

An abstract concept, the idea of the city-state, indeed seems the first effect of the expanding Aegean civilization on Rome. Again, details escape us. Located between Etruria and the Greek cities south of Naples, the cultural province formed in Latium was open to contacts with both Greek and Etruscan territories, although it evidently had far less direct communication with the eastern Mediterranean than either. Nevertheless, this province was neither wholly Etruscan nor Greek: it differed from both by language and by tradition. Neither at this early time was Latium, like Etruria, a place where native tribesmen and seafaring traders met and, perhaps, mingled. Rather the Latin civilization represents an Italian response to the challenge of the widening cultural horizon.

Concepts, not objects, therefore were the [p. 21] earliest characteristic products of the eastern infiltration into Latium. Art, the objects, came from the Etruscans and later with the Greeks. There is hardly sufficient reason for us to set the early art of Rome apart from the Etruscan, with which it is so closely allied. On the other hand it is a rather important fact that the Latin historical tradition gives us a few precious clues as to the migrations of artists which probably in a similar way started all local centres of art in Italy, outside the Greek area, but about which we have so little explicit information elsewhere. It seems therefore advisable to deal with these data in the present volume together with the Etruscan, and to do so not as 'Roman art' but as 'art in Rome'.

Thus the scope of this volume outlines itself in the peculiar configuration of historical factors which released Italy from its prehistoric rusticity. Leaving aside the Greek colonial art of the south, our attention must focus on the formation and growth of an Italian, western art which by character and origin was, and for a long time remained, predominantly Etruscan. Only gradually did the Roman centre move into the limelight.

The fundamental factor--not only for the history of art but for the entire history of our culture, which only from that point can be called truly western--was the expansion of a higher civilization from the eastern Mediterranean across the sea into Italian territory. By this leap across hitherto unconquerable distances the area of contiguous civilization was enormously enlarged, with lasting results. The event rates second only to the discovery of America at the end of the fifteenth century. The discovery of Italy, likewise, must be considered a process of long duration. But its decisive phase can be ascribed to the eighth century before Christ, which therefore emerges as a date of paramount importance in our cultural history. It seems apt to begin this account of Etruscan art with the same century. [p. 21]

[Brendel, Otto F. Etruscan Art. New York: Penquin Books. 1978.]



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