Etruscan art (ĭtrŭsˈkən) [key], the art of the inhabitants of ancient Etruria, which, by the 8th cent. B.C., incorporated the area in Italy from Salerno to the Tiber River (see Etruscan civilization). Archaeologists have been unable to trace the precise development of Etruscan art. Although much is clearly owed to Greek sources, Etruscan works have a definite character of their own. While Etruscan forms are recognizably Hellenized, the underlying spirit retains an energy difficult to achieve in the Greek search for precision. Additionally, the Etruscans kept up a large commerce with the East, and many of their art motifs derive from the Orient. The principal centers of Etruscan art were Caere (Cerveteri), Tarquinii, Vulci, and Veii (Veio). As a consequence of abundant ore deposits, bronze statuary was common and the Etruscans brought the art of bronze working to a very high level of achievement. They were also experts in the art of ironworking, Etruscan goldwork was among the finest anywhere in the ancient world, and large-scale carvings were common. Extant examples of their craftsmanship in bronze include the large portraits Brutus (Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome) and Orator (Museo Archeologico, Florence). Most Etruscan sculpture, however, was executed in clay. The Etruscan cult of the dead, similar to contemporaneous Egyptian practices, produced a highly developed sepulchral art. Clay sarcophagi and urns were modeled with great skill. The sculptured lids of sarcophagi often represented a single figure or a couple reclining on a couch. These figures wore the haunting archaic smile evident in early Greek sculpture. The amazingly naturalistic Etruscan portrait busts were probably a source for later Roman portrait sculpture. The Etruscans were particularly noted for their black bucchero pottery and were experts with the potter's wheel. Fresco paintings were abundant in Etruscan underground funerary vaults, works that frequently depict banquets, festivals, and scenes of daily life. Executed in a strictly two-dimensional style and decorated with foliage motifs, many of these tomb paintings are still extant. By the 1st cent. B.C. Roman art absorbed the Etruscan.
See studies by E. Richardson (1964, repr. 1976), A. Boethius and J. B. Ward-Perkins (1970), M. Sprenger and G. Bartoloni (1983), R. Brilliant (1984), O. J. Brendel (and F. R. Serra Ridgway; 1979, new ed. 1995), and N. J. Spivey (1997).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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