Head from a stela.
del Gargano, Manfredonia, Italy.
Hellenic and Italic
Complex civilizations of many
races and languages developed in the Italian region from the early
centuries of the first millennium bc. Of the
various artistic cultures of Italy, the most prominent were those of the
Etruscans and the Romans, each with their own individual
Harious peoples occupied Italy during the first millennium bc the
main groups in the Alps were the Ligurians in the west, the Veneti to
the east, and the Protocelts to the north.
The Po valley and Etruria were occupied by the Villanovan group, which
developed into the historical Etruscan civilization. South of Etruria
were the Latins, who founded Rome; and farther south, to the east, and
in the islands were various populations of different provenances, some
of whom, like the Sardi, or the Elymi of Sicily evolved highly original
From this rich diversity of peoples, and with the addition of Greek
(Magna Graecia and Sicily) and Punic (Sardinia and western Sicily)
colonies, evolved the ancient art of Italy.
THE DAUNIAN DYNASTIES
Daunian stelae (commemorative slabs or pillars) were cur from the
soft stone of the Gargano promontory in Apulia. Initially white, this
stone tended to darken as it aged. The stelae were painted in red
and black, as was contemporary pottery (seventh to sixth century bc).
Across Apulia, from Sipontum to Arpi, to Canosa, and as far as Melfitano,
the ruling families honoured their dead in this monumental form. The
figures, mostly female, are heavily stylized and contained within the
rectangular form, with just the faintest sign of chiselling in places to
create the almost imperceptible effect of bas-relief details. The body,
long garments, jewels, and other personal objects are very stylized. So
too is the head, which is often rendered as a smooth, featureless oval
with a conical headdress for women or a sectioned helmet for men. The
arms are folded across the torso and the feet are not included. Instead,
the rectangle becomes a space which is filled with delicate and
intricate decoration, combining geometric patterns with a variety of
figurative scenes - travel, hunting, fishing, navigation, milling and
weaving, lovers, banquets and ritual games, domesticated animals,
monsters, and mythical figures. The sculptors were precise in their
rendering of detail, as they were convinced of the power of symbols and
of the significance of human existence within the cosmic design.
Funerary stelae of women limestone.
Museo Nazionale del Gargano, Manfredonia, Italy.
Despite the diversity of the peoples and regions, artistic
production in the Italian peninsula was united by a readiness to
embrace existing forms. From early prehistory, the need to express
beliefs and experiences - magical, religious, and funerary -was
manifested in personal adornment and in the production of cult and
votive objects. It was also evident in other artistic endeavours,
such as the great series of rock carvings in the Alpine foothills of
northern Italy, which depict scenes of hunting, ploughing, and
combat and seem to include both human and supernatural figures. By
the end of the first millennium bc, there had been profound changes
in society, with the development of complex social stratification;
this was reflected in art in the erection of memorials to eminent
people and other public monuments. In the Gargano area of the
Italian peninsula and in Sardinia, stone sculpture was produced from
the end of the Bronze Age. The Mycenaeans, who had reached southern
Italy earlier in the Bronze Age, introduced the use of refined clay
as a substitute for the rougher impasto materials. Painted
decoration on pottery began with the proto-geometric style of the
lapygian peoples in Apulia ( 11th—9th century bc). followed by the
Oenotrian style found from Basilicata to the Tyrrhenian coast. Then,
in the late ninth and eighth centuries bc, Phoenicians and Greeks
arrived in Italy and Sardinia, resulting in the adoption of new
pottery techniques for some forms in Central Italy: the use of the
wheel, refined clay, and painted decoration.
Oenotrian geometric earthenware pot showing a mourning scene,
Museo Nazionaie Archeologico. Matera, Italy
Male funerary stela, limestone,
Bigliolo (Aulla, Val di Magra).
Museo Civico, Pontremoli, Italy.
During the Orientalizing period (seventh century bc) and
Archaic period (sixth and earlier fifth centuries bc) there was
increased cultural exchange over ancient land routes, or by way
of new sea lanes along the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian coastlines.
The Orientalizing period is named after the wealth of luxury
goods imported from the Near East and the Aegean, including
vessels of gold, silver, glass, and fine pottery, as well as
ivories and ostrich eggs, many decorated with figured scenes.
The Daunians controlled the mouth of the Ofanto from Canusium,
as well as trade with groups across the Adriatic. The geometric
tradition of the lapygians provided the basis for a regulated
decorative style, which, in pottery, resisted outside influence.
The princely tombs of Noicattaro and Conversano in Peucetia
reveal an accumulation of imported merchandise rather than the
products of a purely local tradition. The Messapians, who were
in close contact with the Greeks, imitated the use of the
Black-Figure technique in ceramics,
adopted Greek forms of worship, and developed monumental
architecture. Etruscan influence prevailed in Campania as a
result of their direct dominance as far as the valley of the
River Sele. By the end of the fifth century bc, the use of both
painted terracotta decorations for the eaves of buildings and
terracotta votives was widespread in southern Italy. The
influence of the Greek colony at Cumae extended from Capua to
Teanum, Minturnae, and Satricum, and as far as Rome and Caere.
With the Sabellian conquest of Capua in 423bc, production of
sculpture in tufa began, a parallel practice to the Etruscan
limestone caning at Chiusi. From about 400bc, when the Lucanians
took control of Poseidonia (Paestum), until the foundation of
the Latin colony in 273bc. funerary painting became popular in
this area, though it had started in the Orientalizing period in
Etruria. The subjects were mainly funerary scenes depicting
musicians, games, and offerings. The red, black, and yellow on a
white ground (blue and green were rare) conformed to the four-colour
convention observed by the great Greek painter Apelles (360-3
15bc). In Italy, the colour was painted on a layer of lime
plaster applied to the rock. This contrasted with the Greek
tradition, in which stucco was used to simulate marble as a
support for the colour. The Sabines were influenced by a style
that spread beyond the Apennines from Etruria and the Faliscan
area; it featured animals and an original treatment of monster
images. In Umbria, during the fifth century bc, small bronzes of
stylized warrior men and gods, elongated to the point of
deformation, were dedicated at sanctuaries. The stelae
statues from Luna represented a late development of megalithic
sculpture among this warrior community. Of interest are their
anthropomorphic figures, which arose from contact with northern
Etruria (610-600bc). Paleo-Venetian art adopted Orientalizing
schemes to depict the life of the upper classes. Later, the
theme was used in the thriving local bronze-working industry and
revealed Etruscan influence. The art of the Siculi and Elymi in
Sicily developed independently of Greek and Punic art.
At a very early stage they used monumental forms for dwellings
and sanctuaries, as at Mendolito, Sabucina. and Monte Adranone
(late sixth century bc). The exploits of Alexander the Great
inspired the western campaigns of Alexander of Epirus and
Pyrrhus, and the ensuing period was dominated by Hellenistic
Silenus and Maenad Dancing,
terracotta antefix, Satricum.
Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia, Rome.
THE CAUDINE FORKS
A painting at Paestum from the tomb of a survivor of the battle of
the Caudine Forks commemorates this Samnite victory over the Romans,
at a time when the Lucanians, rulers of Paestum. were their allies
(321bc). The painting conforms to the historical narrative style of
ancient Greece. In the background are a mountain and four cattle,
which are drawn to a larger scale than the human figures. These
animals are seen in similar circumstances in a painting by the Greek
artist Euphranor of the confrontation preceding the battle of
Mantinea (362bc). Also related to Euphranor's painting of the Stoa
of Zeus at Athens is the contrast between the marching Romans,
earning spears and shields, and the deployment of their enemies,
hidden by the terrain. The helmeted commander, who stands on the
rise, threatens the legions that have fallen into the ambush. A
fresco from a tomb in Rome shows the counterpart to this scene, with
episodes from the Samnite wars as seen by the Romans in the style of
Fabius Pictor. Quirites (Roman citizens) with large shields also
appear in the polychrome decoration of vases from Arpi, the Daunian
city allied with Rome against the Samnites.
Battle of the Caudine Forks, tomb painting trom Andriuoio.
Museo Nazionaie Archeologico, Paestum, Italy.
"SITULAE": AN EARLY EUROPEAN ART
Bronze urns with mobile, semicircular handles (situlae) were
produced from the Po river to the Danube. The first examples
in the Tyrol and Slovenia had geometric decoration, and
later types reflected the Orientalizing taste for rows of
animals. At Este, the centre of production, the Benvenuti
situla was the first to bear narrative scenes featuring
peace and war. Other situlae have scenes from agriculture,
commerce, games, and battles, interspersed with plants and
real and fantastic animals taken from eastern models
(600bc). The final examples, with flowers, date from the
fourth century bc. For a long time, the art of the situlae
was common to populations both north and south of the Alps.
The influence of Mediterranean figurative art on the
European continent is also apparent in Celtic culture.
Benvenuti situla, bronze.
Museo Nazionale Atestino, Este, Italy.
DAUGHTERS OF LAVINIA
Lavinium was a sacred city linked with the origins of
Rome. According to legend, Lavinium was founded by Aeneas in
honour of his wife Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus. For
centuries the magistrates of Rome came to Lavinium to offer
sacrifices when taking office. The city had links with the
Hellenic shrines. Magna Graecia, and Etruria, the art styles
of which would have been familiar. Painted terracotta
sculpture was common to Etruria. Latium, and Campania and.
like other artistic products, had distinct local styles.
The sculptors at Lavinium who made the series of fine
terracotta votive statues drew on the Archaic and classical
Greek art styles but adapted them to their own needs and
aesthetic preferences. The offering figure (left) dating to
c 325-300BC, is a product of the mature local style. The
classical Greek influence is clear in the heavy rounded jaw,
the pouting, slightly downturned mouth, and the clothing (a
long tunic of fine linen and a woollen cloak); while the
frontal pose and lavish jewellery are reminiscent of the
sixth-century Archaic Greek korai (young women).
However, the overall effect is non-Greek. This and the
second figure have a powerful presence and are the work of
skilled craftsmen with a long tradition behind them.
The Albani Maiden, marble.
Villa Albani, Rome.
They have exploited the plastic qualities of the terracotta to
the full, with the pose giving solemnity and intensity, and the
various details and textures adding a sense of vitality. The
necklaces, armring, and diadem have been copied from life -examples
in gold, silver, semiprecious stones, glass, and amber have been
found in contemporary central Italian tombs. These are wealthy,
aristocratic figures, or possibly goddesses, and would have carried
clear messages about religious beliefs and the organization of
society, easily understood by contemporary' viewers. Their calm
dignity is also seen later in sculptures such as The Albani
Terracotta offering figure, Lavinium. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Head of maiden, terracotta, Lavinium. Soprintendenza Archeologica per il Lazio,
The Etruscans developed a sophisticated civilization in the first
millenium bc in central Italy - between the Tiber and Arno rivers -
with outposts in the Po valley and Campania. They adopted an
alphabet from the Greeks to write inscriptions in their own
language, which was unlike any other in Italy. For them, the
religious aspect of life was all-embracing, ritual pervaded everyday
life, images of death took on natural guises, and women enjoyed
undisputed privileges. The people who became the historical
Etruscans are recognizable in the Proto-Villanovan (12th-10th
century bc) and Villanovan (ninth to eighth century bc)
archaeological cultures. They found self-expression in the
production of bronzes by specialist craftsmen and handmade pots that
were incised and impressed with complex geometric patterns.
Bronze situla from Bologna, Certosa.
Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna.
Villanovan ossuary with bowi-shaped lid, impasto,
ninth-eighth century BC, San Vitale.
Musee Civico Archeologico, Bologna.
BEYOND THE GRAVE
In the Villanovan and earlier Etruscan periods, highly
abstract renderings of the body accompanied some dead to the
grave. Villanovan biconical cinerary urns miay be
interpreted as a replacement for the body destroyed by
cremation. This body reference later became more explicit:
at Vulci, the head was rendered as an anonymous sphere on a
cylindrical neck (680-670BC). At Chiusi, in the seventh and
sixth centuries bc, there was a flourishing production of
anthropomorphic cinerary urns featuring heads with eyes,
nose, mouth, and ears and often decorated with bronze
elements such as earrings. The urns sometimes have arms and
may be seated on bronze or pottery chairs.
Later, a widespread practice developed, of sculpting one or
more human figures on the lid of a sarcophagus or ash chest.
For example, the painted terracotta Sarcophagus of the
Married Couple from Cerveteri carries exquisitely modelled,
life-size figures of a man and woman, reclining as if on a
Stylized bronze head, Vuici.
Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia, Rome.
Some also had tiny figures of humans and animals on
handles, rims, and lids. They exploited extensive iron, copper, and
lead deposits in Etruria to form the foundations of a thriving
economy. Trading contacts with the east Mediterranean began in the
late ninth century and were soon enhanced by the establishment of
Greek and Phoenician trading stations in southern Italy. Sicily, and
Sardinia. The local Italian groups adopted new techniques such as
wheel-throwing and painting pottery, and precious metal-working
techniques. The elites who controlled trade were increasingly
interested in acquiring exotic luxury items, and adopting eastern
aristocratic behaviour such as wine drinking and banqueting as
indicators of rank. From the seventh century, the Etruscans promoted
representational art. drawing on eastern Mediterranean models.
Etruscan potters became specialized, producing their own versions of
Greek figured pottery (Corinthian, Black-, and Red-Figure), and also
inventing the elegant black pottery known as bucchero
(c.670bc), and soon traded across the Mediterranean. From early
times, the Etruscans were skilled seafarers and for centuries
dominated the Tyrrhenian sea. The new skills were partly introduced
by foreign craftsmen. Greeks living in western Turkey were driven
out by the Persians in the sixth and early fifth centuries bc, and
many of them settled in the west. Etruscan art at this time was
especially influenced by the Ionian Greek art and it is likely that
Ionian craftsmen and artists came to work in Etruscan cities:
Cerveteri was the home of the Master of the Hydriae (water vases)
and the Micali Painter; and Tarquinia has a concentration of fine
tomb paintings depicting banquets, funeral dances, and games. At
Veii, the sculptors of the fine terracottas decorating the roof of
the Portonaccio Temple (510-490BC) worked in the Ionic tradition,
but the final products are nonetheless distinctively Etruscan. Most
striking are the full-size painted terracotta statues of Apollo and
Herakles confronting each other over a hind, watched by Hermes and
Apollo's mother Leto. These powerfully modelled figures stood on the
roof ridge and, with the other figured and floral terracottas
protecting the eaves, would have made a great display. Contact with
the merchants of Aegina (510nc) and relations with Magna Graecia and
Sicily followed. The maritime supremacy gained by Syracuse after the
Greeks won the battle of Cumae (474bc) interrupted the import of
Greek goods into the ports of Etruria. Gradually, some trade was
rerouted via the Adriatic and the Etruscan site of Spina on the Po
delta. The northern inland cities such as Clusium (Chiusi) and
Arretium (Arezzo) continued to thrive and industries developed from
the import of ceramics from Athens via Spina (450-440bc). The new
Greek classical style is clearly reflected in the tradition of stone
sculpture at Chiusi, especially in the fine limestone stelae
with scenes of banqueting and funeral games. The sculptors of
Volsinii (Orvieto) used terracotta to give expression to Attic forms
and decorative styles in the great temples of the late fifth century
bc. Local bronze-workers made the almost life-size statue of Mars
(400bc), found at Todi, for an Umbrian client, displaying skilful
artistic-licence compared with the classical Greek tradition. The
fifth centuiy bc also saw conflict with the growing power of Rome.
The great city of Veii finally fell in 396bc, and some other cities
only remained independent via treaties and alliances with Rome.
Conflict with the Greeks of Magna Graecia continued, for example the
Syracusans sacked the port of Pyrgi and captured Caere. In Etruscan
tomb-painting the banquet scene was often now set in Hades and
accompanied by demons and spirits of the underworld, producing a
more sombre vision of death. Temple terracottas continued to be
important. At Falerii, which remained the bulwark of the Etruscan
area after Tarquinia's war with Rome (358-335bc), the Temple of Lo
Scasato I, dedicated to Apollo, has fine sculptures in the pediment
zone, including one of Apollo leaping into his chariot. Artists from
Volsinii may have worked in Tarquinia on the "Ara delia Regina1'
temple. Remaining from the pediment is a pair of splendidly modelled
winged horses pawing the ground as if about to take flight. Also
important are the terracottas of Temple A at Pyrgi, with late
classical features again in an Etruscan formulation. Etruscan
bronzes - especially votive figures and household items, such as
mirrors, candelabra, and incense-burners -were famed in antiquity.
Also important was the production of sarcophagi and ash chests in
terracotta and stone from the sixth to the first centuries bc, with
varied local traditions and specialities. For example, in the later
period, the northern city of Volterra produced chests in local
alabaster with complex high-relief scenes from myth and history on
Head of Leucotea, terracotta, from Pyrgi.
Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulla, Rome.
Bellerophon on Pegasus defeating the chimaera,
back of a mirror, bronze, Paiestrina.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The chimaera is a mythical beast, part lion, part goat, and part
snake, which was killed by the hero Bellerophon. In Etruscan art. it
occurs on mirrors, painted pottery, and private seals. Most famous
is the Chimaera of Arezzo, a magnificent life-size bronze
statue, made in the early fourth century bc and found during
building work in 1553 near the Porta San Lorenzo, Arezzo. Although
wounded in the leg and goat's head, the cornered beast crouches as
if about to spring at its attacker and snarls ferociously. An
Etruscan votive inscription on its right foreleg, added to the wax
model before casting, indicates that this sculpture was made in a
North Etrurian workshop. The tail is a restoration of 1785. The
powerful body is modelled naturalistically in sharp contrast with
the stylized muzzle and the stiff petal-shaped tufts of the ruff and
mane. On the mirror from Palestrina, dating from about 330bc,
Bellerophon riding Pegasus deals the mortal blow to the chimaera.
The goat's head has already been speared but the animal fights to
the last. The turmoil of bodies enclosed within the circle of the
mirror enhances the sense of drama.
Full view (detail)
of the Chinaera of Arezzo.
Museo Archeologico, Florence
Full view of the Chinaera of Arezzo.
Museo Archeologico, Florence
THE HUMAN CONDITION
The main figure of a naked boy stands half a metre (one and
a half feet) high. The face, toes, fingers, genitals, navel,
and buttocks are naturalistically modelled, drawing
ultimately on Greek art. However, the spectral elongation of
this figure — referred to by one romantic author as "The
Evening Shadow" - came out of a very different artistic and
cultural tradition rooted in popular Italic and Etruscan
cult. This tradition continued to produce wooden ex-votos of
board-like form and simple stylized figures in sheet and
cast bronze with non-classical proportions throughout the
first millennium bc. These elongated figures may be male or
female, children or adults, nude or clothed, with arms at
their sides or with one forearm extended in a gesture of
offering. They have attracted much attention by their
strange form and powerful presence. For example, the
similarly elongated figures by the 20th-century Italian
sculptor Giacometti suggest a direct influence, although
they are differently modelled.
Votive figure, bronze,
Sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis,
Musee du Louvre, Paris