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Introduction:
part 1
This webpage reproduces a section of
The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria

by George Dennis

published by John Murray, Albemarle Street
London, 1848.

The text is in the public domain.


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Introduction:
Appendix

(INTRODUCTION, continued)

We have now to consider the arts of the Etruscans, from the remains of which we gather our chief knowledge of this people. That which is most peculiarly their own, and has partaken least of foreign influence, is their

Architecture.

From history we learn very little of this art among them. We know that they were the chief architects of early Rome, that they built the great temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, and constructed the Cloaca Maxima,114 and that Rome, whenever she would raise any public buildings, sent to Etruria for artificers. But of the peculiarities of Etruscan architecture we know from history little more than Vitruvius tellsº us of the plan and proportions of a temple in the Tuscan style.115 We know too that Etruscan houses frequently had porticoes,116 and a court, called atrium or cavaedium, within them, so arranged that the water from the roof fell into a tank in the centre — a plan adopted by the Romans.117 Unfortunately, not a vestige of an Etruscan temple, beyond some doubtful foundations,a is now extant, to compare with Vitruvius' description;118 yet numerous models of temples and houses are to be seen in Etruscan tombs, either hewn from the rock, or sculptured on sepulchral monuments; and there is no lack of materials whence to learn the proportions, style, and decorations of the former, and the arrangements, conveniences, and furniture of the latter. In truth Etruria presents abundant food to the inquiring architect; and he who would make the tour of her ancient cities and cemeteries, might add much to our knowledge of the early architecture of Italy. He would learn that the architecture of the Etruscans bore sometimes a close affinity to that of Egypt, sometimes to that of Greece or Rome, but had often remarkable native peculiarities. He would learn, also, beyond what Vitruvius tells him of the practice of the Etruscans to decorate the pediments of their temples with figures of clay or of bronze gilt,119 that they must also have been adorned internally with paintings and reliefs, and that the whole, both within and without, must have glowed with colour, according to the polychrome system set forth in the tombs and sepulchral monuments.

The remains of Etruscan architecture yet extant are found in the walls gates of cities, in sewers, bridges, vaults, and tombs.

Nothing gives a more exalted idea of the power and grandeur of this ancient people than the walls of their cities.120 These enormous piles of masonry, uncemented, yet so solid as to have withstood for three thousand years the destroying hand of man, the tempests, the earthquakes, the invisible yet more destructive power of atmospheric action, seem destined to endure to the end of time; yet often show a beauty, a perfection of workmanship, that has never been surpassed. The style of masonry differs in the two great divisions of the land, and is determined in part by the nature of the local materials. In the northern district, where the rock is difficult to be hewn, being limestone, hard sandstone, or travertine, the walls are composed of huge blocks, rectangular in general, but of various sizes, and irregular arrangement, according as the masses of rock were hewn or split from the quarry; and in some instances small pieces are inserted in the interstices of the larger blocks. There are also a few instances of the irregular, polygonal style, as in the Cyclopean cities of Central Italy. In the southern district the masonry is less massive and very regular, being composed of tufo or other volcanic rock, which admits of being easily worked.121

In the earliest fortifications the gates were square-headed, spanned by lintels of stone or wood, and the arch, when found in connection with such masonry, must be considered of subsequent construction. But in walls of later date the gates were arched on the perfect cuneiform system, the massive voussoirs holding together without cement. Indeed there is abundant evidence in the architectural remains of Etruria that the perfect arch was known and practised in that land at a very early period; and that the Romans, who have too long enjoyed the credit of its invention, derived it from the Etruscans, is now set beyond a doubt.

That the world is indebted to Etruria for the discovery of the principle of the arch would be difficult of proof. The existence of arches among the tombs of Thebes and in the pyramids of Nubia on the one hand,122 and of a bridge in Laconia and a gateway in Acarnania on the other,123 raises two rivals to contest in honour of originality with Etruria; and a third may perhaps be found in Assyria, if Mr. Layard's views of the date of the monuments at Nimroud be correct. But whichever of these leading nations of antiquity may have discovered the principle, there can be no doubt that it was the Etruscans who first practised it in Italy; and, considering the inventive turn of this people and their acknowledged skill in architecture, it is probable that the principle of cuneiform sustentation was worked out by them, whether prior or subsequently to its discovery in Egypt, Greece, or Assyria it is impossible to determine.124 As in those countries, there are here also instances of pseudo-vaults, prior to the invention of the arch, formed by the gradual convergence of blocks laid in horizontal courses. These structures must be of very remote date, probably before the foundation of Rome.125

So much will be said in the course of this work about the Sepulchres of the Etruscans, that it is not necessary to say much here. But it may be well to point out a few of their characteristics. A leading feature is, that they are always subterranean, in which they resemble the Greek rather than the Roman, being hollowed in the living rock, either beneath the surface of the ground, or in the face of a cliff, or at the foot of a cliff, which was shaped by the chisel into a monument, and inscribed with an epitaph.126 Where the rock would not readily admit of such excavation, or where the soil was too loose and friable, the tomb was constructed with masonry, and heaped over with earth into the form of a tumulus. There is nothing in all Etruria like Roman sepulchres, built up above the surface of the ground; indeed, the object of the Etruscans, as of the Greeks, seems to have been rather to conceal their tombs than to display them, as it was with the Romans.127

Another characteristic of Etruscan tombs, which distinguishes them from the Roman, and allies them intimately with those of Egypt and Asia Minor, is that they generally show an imitation, more or less obvious, of the abodes of the living. Some display this analogy in their exterior; others in their interior; a few in both. Some have more resemblance to temples, and may be the sepulchres of augurs or aruspices, or of families in which the sacerdotal office was hereditary. Even in cases where the analogy is not at first apparent, it will generally be found to exist, as in the tumular sepulchres, which are like the huts of ancient Phrygia.128 It is most probable that the paintings on the walls of Etruscan tombs show the style, though perhaps not the exact subjects, of the internal decorations of their houses. the ceilings are sometimes adorned with coffers, and the walls with panelling — benches and stools surround the chambers — and easy arm-chairs, with foot-stools attached, all hewn from the living rock, are found in the subterranean houses of these Etruscan "city of the dead." The analogy to houses has been truly and pointedly said to hold in everything but the light of day.

In this respect alone, Etruscan tombs have a peculiar interest and value, as illustrative of the plan, arrangements, and decorations, external and internal, of Etruscan houses; of which, as time has left us no trace, and history no definite description, we must gather what information we may from analogical sources. In the Etruscan temples and houses, be it remembered, we view those of early Rome, ere she had sat at the feet of her more accomplished preceptor, Greece.

Plastic Arts.

Of the plastic and pictorial arts of the Etruscans it is difficult to treat, both on account of the vast extent of the subject, and more particularly because it demands an intimate acquaintance with ancient art in general, such as can be acquired only by years of study and experience, and by the careful comparison of numerous works of various ages and countries. It has been laid down as an axiom, that "He who has seen one work of ancient art has seen none, he who has seen a thousand has seen but one."129 I feel, therefore, somewhat reluctant to enter on a ground to which I cannot pretend to do justice, especially in the narrow limits to which I am confined. Yet it is incumbent on me to give the reader a general view of the subject, to enable him to understand the facts and observations he will meet with in the course of these volumes.

As the fine arts of a country always bear the reflex of its political and social condition, so the hierarchical government of Etruria here finds its most palpable expression. In the most ancient works the influence of the national religion is most apparent; deities or religious symbols seem the only subjects represented, so that some have been led to the conclusion that both the practice and theory of design were originally in the hands of the priests alone.130 These early Etruscan works have many points in common with those of the infancy of art in other lands, just as babes are very similar all the world over: yet, beside the usual shapelessness and want of expression, they have native peculiarities, such as disproportionate length of body and limbs, an unnatural elongation of hands and feet, drapery adhering to the body, and great rigidity, very like the Egyptian, yet with less parallelism. In truth, in both style and subjects, the earliest works of Etruria betray the great influence of Egypt, which continued to be exerted even after Etruscan art had cast aside its leading-strings.131 By degrees, however, whether from increased intercourse with Greece, or from the natural progress common to all civilized countries, Etruscan art stepped out of the conventionalities which confined it, and assumed a more energetic character, more like the Greek than like the Egyptian, yet still rigid, hard, and dry, rather akin to the Aeginetic than the Athenian school, displaying more force than beauty, more vigour than grace, better intention than ability of execution, an exaggerated, not a truthful representation of nature. It was only when the triumph of Greek art was complete, and the world acknowledged the transcendency of Hellenic genius, that Etruria became its humble disciple, and imitated — copied sometimes to servility — the grand works of the Greek chisel and pencil. A distinctive natural character is, however, generally preserved.132 Thus the three styles into which Etruscan art may be divided are — 1st, The Egyptian, which has also Babylonian analogies; 2nd, The Etruscan, or Tyrrhene, as it is sometimes called, perhaps in compliment to its more than doubtful Greek character; 3rd, The Hellenic. To these might be added a fourth — that of the Decadence.

This classification pertains to all the imitative arts of the Etruscans. Of these the working in clay was the most ancient,133 as moulding naturally precedes casting, chiselling, or painting. For their works in terra-cotta the Etruscans were renowned in ancient times,134 and early Rome contained numerous specimens of them.135 The Veientes in particular were famed for their works in clay.136

Then followed the arts of casting and chiselling in bronze, for which the Etruscans were greatly renowned;137 and their statues in metal not only filled the temples of Rome,138 but were also exported to other lands.139 In truth the Etruscans have the renown of being the inventors of this art in Italy.140 Innumerable are the specimens of Etruscan toreutic statuary that have come down to us, and widely different are the degrees of excellence displayed, from the rudest, most uncouth attempts at the human form, to the ideal glorification of its beauties, wrought with all

"The cunning they who dwell on high

Have given unto the Greek." —

In size they varied no less: from the minute figure of deities, or lares,141 to statues of colossal dimensions, like that of the Apollo on the Palatine, which was fifty feet in height, and was a wonderful for its beauty as for its mass of metal.142 One of the most interesting monuments of this art extant is the she-wolf of the Capitol, which has an historical renown.143

Not only in the representation of life, but in instruments for domestic and warlike purposes, did the Etruscan metal-workers excel.144 Even in the time of Pericles, the Athenian poet Pherecrates sang of the Etruscan candelabra;145 "and what testimony," asks Müller, "can be more honourable for Etruscan art than the words of the elegant-minded Athenian, Critias, the son of Callaeschrus, a contemporary of Mys, who reckons as the best of their sort the Etruscan gold-wrought cups, and bronzes of every sort for the decoration and service of houses;146 by which we must understand candelabra, crateres, goblets, and even weapons?"147 Even Phidias himself gave to his celebrated statue of Minerva sandals of the Etruscan fashion.148 From all this we learn, that if Etruria was indebted to Greece for the excellence she attained in the representation of the human form, the latter was ready to admit, and to avail herself of the native skill and taste of her pupil. And well may it have been so; for it were impossible that the Greeks should not admire such works as the bronze lamp in the Museum of Cortona, the casket from Vulci, and the golden wreaths in the Museo Gregoriano, or the exquisite specimens of gold filagree-work in the same collection, and in that of Cavaliere Campana.

The art of statuary was very ancient in Italy. It was either in wood or stone, the first being applied in very remote times to the images of the gods.149 The Etruscans also made use of this primitive material; for a very ancient Jupiter at Populonia was carved from the trunk of a vine.150 Of their works in stone numerous specimens have come down to us, some on the façades or walls of their rock-hewn sepulchres, others in detached statues, but chiefly on sarcophagi and cinerary urns: for it was their custom to decorate these monuments with the effigies of the deceased, and with reliefs of various descriptions. The extant sculpture of Etruria is indeed almost wholly sepulchral. It is not in general so archaic or peculiarly national in character as the works in metal, and betrays rather the influence of Greek than of Egyptian art. Yet it is from works of this description that we learn most of the manners, customs, inner life, and religious creed, as well as of the costume and personal characteristics of this singular people. The most archaic works of Etruscan sculpture are the cippi, or so‑called "altars," of fetid limestone, from Chiusi and its neighbourhood, whose bas-reliefs show a purely native style of art; together with a few full-sized figures in relief, like the warrior in the Museum of Volterra.151 The latest are the cinerary urns of Volterra and Perugia, which have often more of a Roman than a Greek character, and may sometimes be of Imperial times.152 There is often great boldness and expression in Etruscan sculpture, sometimes even higher qualities; but it rarely attains the beauty and grace which are found in the pictorial and toreutic works of this people, and never the perfection of this art among the Greeks, to whom alone, it has been said, did heaven reveal the full sentiment of human beauty.153

The sculpture of these sarcophagi and urns is often painted, not so much in imitation of nature, as in accordance with native conventionalities; for though a better taste is occasionally displayed, there is too often a total disregard of harmony, very unfavourable to the polychrome system of Etruria.

It may be well here to notice those works of the Etruscans which have been distinguished as scalptural, or graven, such as gems or scarabaei in stone, and specula or mirrors in bronze.

Scarabaei.

Numerous as are Etruscan gems, none of them are cameos, or with figures cut in relief; all are intaglios; and all are cut into the form of the scarabaeus or beetle. Nothing seems to indicate a closer analogy between Etruria and Egypt than the multitude of these curious gems found in this part of Italy. The use of them was, doubtless, derived from the banks of the Nile; but they do not seem to stand in the same archaic relation to Etruscan art as the other works which betray an Egyptian analogy. They appear, however, to have served the same purpose as in Egypt — to have been worn as charms or amulets, generally in rings; yet it is probable that the Etruscans adopted this relic of foreign superstition without attaching to it the same religious meaning as the Egyptians did, who worshipped it as a god — as a symbol of the great Demiurgic principle.154 The Etruscan scarabaei have a marked difference from the Egyptian, in material, form, and decoration;155 and the frequent representations from the Greek mythology prove them to have no very early date.156 From the heroic or palaestric subjects on these scarabaei, it is thought that they were symbols of valour and manly energy, and were worn only by the male sex.157

Scarabaei have rarely been found on more than two sites in Etruria — Chiusi and Vulci. At the latter they are always in tombs, but at Chiusi they are found on the soil in a certain slope beneath the city, called, from the abundance of such discoveries, "The Jeweller's Field," where they are turned up by the plough, or washed to light by the rains.158

Specula,

or mirrors, are round or pear-shaped plates of bronze, often gilt, or silvered, flat, but with the edge turned up, or slightly concave, having the outer side highly polished, and the inner adorned with figures scratched upon it. To the plate is attached a handle, often carved into some elegant form of life. The disk is seldom more than six or seven inches in diameter; it is generally encircled by a wreath of leaves, as shown in the specimen engraved for the frontispiece of this volume.159

For a long time these instruments went by the name of patera, and were supposed to have served as ladles for flour, or other light dry substances, used in sacrifices. Inghirami was among the first to reject this idea, and show them to be mirrors160 — a fact now established beyond a doubt.161 It is proved by representations of them, either on their own disks or on painted vases, in the hands of females, who are using them as such — by the high polish they often retain, so bright indeed, as sometimes to fit them for their original purpose, — and by the discovery of them in caskets, with other articles of the female toilet.162

Etruscan specchj may be divided into three classes.

First — those without any design on the inner surface. More than ordinary decoration is in these cases expended on the handles. Such mirrors, however, are very rare.

Secondly — those with figures in relief. These also met with but seldom.163

Thirdly — those with designs scratched on the inner surface. These may be subdivided according to the subjects which they bear. First, and most numerous, are those which have scenes taken from the cycle of Greek mythology, or heroic fable, always, however, illustrated by Etruscan inscriptions, and often nationalised by the introduction of Etruscan demons. Then those which bear representations or symbols of the divinities of the national creed, from the Nine Great Gods who wielded the thunder, through all the grades of their wild and multiform demonology, to the lowly Penates, the protectors of the individual hearth.164 The last class portrays scenes of Etruscan life and manners; but of this a few instances only are known.

Every style of art will be found on these disks, from the feeblest and rudest efforts of its infancy to the free but careless outlines of the decadence; but it must be confessed that, except in a very few cases, such as that represented in the frontispiece to this volume, the elevation and perfection of the high style is not displayed.165 Yet there is no branch of Etruscan antiquities more genuinely native — none more valuable to the inquirer, for the information it yields as to the language and creed of the ancient race; for the inscriptions being always in the native character, and designatory of the individual gods or heros represented, these mirrors become a sure index to the Etruscan creed, — "a figurative dictionary," as Chevalier Bunsen terms it, of Etruscan mythology; while at the same time they afford us the chief source and one of the most solid bases of our acquaintance with the native language.166


The art in which Etruscan genius and skill have achieved their greatest triumphs is Painting. This art is of very ancient date in Italy; for we hear of paintings at Caere, in Etruria, which were commonly believed to be earlier than the foundation of Rome.167

The pictorial remains of the Etruscans are of two kinds:— the scenes on the walls of sepulchres, and those on pottery.

Painted Tombs.

This is a most important class of monuments, for the variety and interest of the subjects represented, and the light they throw on the customs, domestic manners, and religious creed of the Etruscans, as well as on the progress and extent of the pictorial art among them. We find these "chambers of imagery" chiefly in the chambers of Tarquinii and Clusium, though two have also been found at Cervetri, and a solitary one at Veii, Bomarzo, Vulci, and Vetulonia respectively, — all of which will be duly treated of in the course of this work. They show us Etruscan art in various periods and stages of excellence, from its infancy to its perfection; some being coeval, it may be, with the foundation of Rome, others as late as the Empire; some almost Egyptian in character, others peculiarly native; some again decidedly Greek in imitation, if not in execution; others like the Roman frescoes of Pompeii and Herculaneum. There is the same wide range as exists between the works of Giotto or Cimabue, and those of Raffaelle or the Caracci. In the tomb of Veii we have the rudeness and conventionality of very early art — great exaggeration of anatomy and proportions — no attempt to imitate the colouring of nature, but only to arrest the eye by startling contrasts. In the earliest tombs of Tarquinii, though of later date, the Egyptian character and physiognomy are still most strongly pronounced. Of better style are other tomb-paintings on the same site, which have a native character, though preserving much conventionality of form and colouring. And better still are some which breathe of Greece, of the spirit and feeling of the Hellenic vases, where there is a grace of outline, a dignity and simplicity of attitude, and a force of expression, which prove the limner to have been a master of his art, though this was not wholly freed from conventional trammels. Later, more free and careless, are most of the paintings at Chiusi, where power is weakened by negligence, as though the artist scarcely regarded such work to be worthy of his pencil. Still later, with yet more freedom, mastery, and intelligence, are some of the scenes at Tarquinii, and one, not now extant, at Vulci, where rigidity and severity are laid aside, where fore-shortening, grouping, composition, and even chiaroscuro are introduced; which display, in a word, all the ease and power of Roman frescoes of the close of the Republic or commencement of the Empire.

Painted Vases.

The painted vases form the most comprehensive and difficult subject connected with Etruscan art. The vast multitude that have been brought to light, the great variety of form, of use, of story and myth, of degree of excellence in the workmanship and design, the numerous questions connected with their origin and manufacture not yet satisfactorily answered and the diversity of opinions respecting them, render it impossible to treat fully of so extensive a subject in a narrow compass. My remarks, then, must necessarily be brief, and are offered for the sake of elucidating the frequent references to Etruscan pottery made in the course of this work: and rather with the hope of exciting interest in the subject than with the expectation of satisfying inquiry.

The most ancient pottery of Etruria was not painted, but adorned with figures, either scratched on the moist clay, as in that of Veii, or left in flat relief, as in that of Caere, or in prominent and rounded relief, as in that of Clusium and its neighbourhood. The subjects represented are figures of deities, chimaeras, and other symbols of the Etruscan creed: more rarely myths, and scenes illustrative of native life and customs. Though the most ancient in style, this pottery is not necessarily so in fact; as the peculiarities of a remote period may have been conventionally preserved, especially on sepulchral or sacred vessels, through a long course of ages.

The painted vases may be divided into three grand classes. First — the Egyptian, or, as it is sometimes called from the oriental deities and chimaeras represented, the Phoenician or Babylonian-Phoenician style. By others, however, it is regarded as not of Egyptian or oriental origin, but as a variety of archaic Greek, particularly Doric;168 and the fact of its being found in abundance in Sicily and Magna Graecia, and even in Greece itself, strongly confirms this view. Yet the term Egyptian does not seem misapplied, for the resemblance of the figures to that rigid style of art is obvious to the casual observer. This class of vases is undoubtedly the earliest; a fact proved by the rude workmanship, and the general primitive character.

The figures, which are painted on the pale yellow ground of the clay, are arranged in several bands round the vase, and are brown rather than black, varied occasionally with purple, white, or red. They consist chiefly of wild beasts — lions, panthers, wolves, boars; or of cattle — bulls, goats, rams, antelopes; or of chimaeras — sphinxes, sirens, griffons, centaurs, and other compound, mystic beings; arranged in pairs of opposite natures, either facing each other or engaged in combat — the principle of antagonism being obviously set forth.169 Mixed with them are quaint foliage and flowers, especially the lotus. If other figures are introduced, they are generally demons or genii, or the four-winged divinities of oriental worship.

The design on these vases corresponds in great part with that on the earliest painted tombs, such as that of Veii, and also with the most archaic Etruscan bronzes. Were we to seek analogies to the works of foreign lands, it would be to the earliest works of the Greek chisel — the reliefs in the metopes of the temple of Jupiter Agoraeus, at Selinus, now in the Museum of Palermo, or to the Agamemnon, Talthybius, and Epeus, from Samothrace, now in the Louvre.

The Second Class of vases is that commonly designated Etruscan, as though it were peculiar to this part of Italy; but it is also found in Campania, where it is called "Sicilian," from its still greater abundance in that island. The more correct appellation would be "Archaic Greek," for such is the character of the design; and the subjects and inscriptions attached are equally Hellenic.170 This style is found on vases of much more beauty of form and workmanship, and of much greater variety than the former class; but the most common descriptions are the amphora, or wine-jar; the hydria, or water-jar, and the celebe, or mixing-vase.

This style is recognisable by its black figures on the ground of the clay, which is yellow, warming to red. The flesh of females, the hair of old men, the devices on shields, and a few other objects, are painted white; the armour, also, is sometimes tinted purple, and red is occasionally introduced on the drapery.171 The design is stiff, hard, severe, and full of conventionality; the attitudes are rigid and constrained, often impossible; the muscles are amusingly exaggerated; the hands and feet preposterously elongated. Yet there is frequently great spirit displayed, especially in the better works of this style, which are more free from the above defects, and show great truth and expression, remarkable vigour of conception, with a conscientious carefulness and neatness of execution quite surprising. As an instance of the latter qualities, I may cite the beautiful vase in the Gregorian Museum, representing Achilles and Ajax playing dice.172 Yet none of this class are wholly free from the severity of early art. The figures bear the same relation to the sculpture of Aegina that those of the latter class of vases do to the marbles of the Parthenon; indeed, these may be called of the Aeginetic school, for they correspond in date as well as in style.173 And though it may be doubted if all the extant pottery of this class can claim so remote an antiquity, and may not rather be a more recent imitation, the type of it indisputably belongs to a very early period of Greek art. It will be understood that whenever vases with black figures are mentioned in the course of this work, a strong degree of archaicism of design is always implied.174

The subjects on vases of this class are generally Greek — the deeds of Hercules or Theseus — scenes from the Trojan war — combats of the gods with the giants, and similar fables from the Hellenic mythology. Very numerous, also, are those of Dionysiac character. Sileni and Maenades dancing round the jolly god, who stands in the midst, crowned with ivy, and holding a vine-branch, a thyrsus, and a goblet of wine. Another common class of subjects is Panathenaic; representing on one side the great goddess of Attica brandishing her lance, between two Doric columns crowned with cocks; and on the other, foot, horse, or chariot-races, or the wrestling, boxing, or hurling-matches, which took place at the Attic festivals. Such vases, from the inscriptions they bear, are proved to have been given as prizes in the public games.175 These subjects are peculiar to vases of this second class.

The third class of vases is justly denominated Greek, as it partakes of the best art of that wonderful people. These vases are pre-eminent in elegance of form, in fineness of material and brilliancy of varnish, and in exquisite beauty of design, divested of that archaic severity and conventionality which distance the earlier types. In this class the ground is always painted black, the figures being left of the natural reddish yellow of the clay.176 The subjects are very similar to those of the second class, with the exception of the Panathenaic scenes; those of Bacchic character are also of less frequent occurrence, the predominating subjects being Greek myths, or representations of Greek manners. Little or nothing is to be learned from any of these painted vases of the customs, habits, traditions, or creed of the Etruscans;— with very few exceptions all are purely Greek.

No one can casually view the best works of this style without delight; and a more intimate acquaintance with them begets in the man of taste an unbounded admiration. They are the originals, in style at least, I say not in conception, of Flaxman's glorious outlines, and well would it be for the student of art to follow that master's example, and imbue his mind deeply with their various excellencies. The dignity of the conception and force of expression, not unfrequently rising into the sublime, the purity and chasteness of taste, the truth and simplicity of the design, the delicacy of the execution, well entitle the best vases of this style to the appellation of "Perfect."177 Rarely, indeed, perhaps never, do they attain the exalted excellence of the highest works of the Greek chisel, the perfection of the sculptures of the Parthenon; yet there is a mastery, a spirit of beauty about them which warrants us in regarding them as of the happiest and purest period of Hellenic art.

There is a fourth class of vases, rarely found in Etruria, but abundant in the Greek colonies of Italy, especially in the districts of Puglia and Basilicata. Like the last class, it has yellow figures on a black ground, but differs widely in style. The vases are often of enormous size and exaggerated proportions. The multitude of figures introduced, the complexity of the composition, the general inferiority and carelessness of the design, the flourish and lavishment of decoration — in a word, the absence of that chasteness and purity which give the Perfect style its chief charm, indicate these vases to belong, if not always to the period of decadence, at least to the verge of it, when art was beginning to trick herself out in meretricious embellishments, and to forget her sublime and godlike simplicity. The more recent date of this class is admitted on every hand.178

What use can this multitude of vases have served? Though now found only in tombs, it must not be supposed that they were all originally of sepulchral application. Those with Panathenaic subjects were probably given, full of oil, as prizes at the national games, just as in Greece. Others may have been given at the palaestric fêtes, or as nuptial presents, or as pledges of love and friendship; and these are generally marked by some appropriate inscription. Many were doubtless articles of household furniture, for use or adornment;179 and a few seem to have been expressly for sepulchral purposes, either as decorations of the tomb, or to contain the wine, honey, and milk, left as offerings to the manes,180 or to make support customary libations, or more rarely to hold the ashes of the dead.181 There can be little doubt, whatever purposes they originally served, that these vases were placed in the tomb by the ashes of the deceased, together with his armour and jewellery, as being among the articles which he most prized in life.

That these vases are found in such multitudes in Etruria is the more astonishing when we remember that almost all the tombs which contain them bear manifest proofs of having been rifled in bygone times. It is extremely rare to find a virgin sepulchre. At Vulci, where the painted vases are most abundant, not more than one tomb in a hundred proves to be intact. It is obvious that those who in past ages violated these sepulchres were either ignorant of the value of the vases, or left them from superstitious motives — most probably the former, for they are often found broken to pieces, as though they had been dashed wantonly to the earth in the search for the precious metals. We know that the sepulchres of Corinth and of Capua were explored by the Romans in the time of Julius Caesar, for the sake of these painted vases, which were called necro-Corinthian, and were then highly prized and of immense value; the art of making them having been lost;182 but how it came to pass that the Romans never worked the vast mines of the same treasures in Etruria, some almost within sight of the Seven-hilled City, it is difficult to comprehend. They could hardly have been ignorant of the custom of the Etruscans to bury these vases in their sepulchres, and religious scruples could not have deterred them from spoliation in Etruria more than in Greece or the south of Italy. Such, however, is the fact, and the abundance of these vases in Etruscan tombs forbids us to believe that the extensive system of rifling, to which they have evidently been subjected, was by Roman hands. It was more probably carried forward at the close of the Empire, or by the barbarian hordes who overran Italy in the early part of our era.183 Plunder was obviously the sole object, for the tombs of the poor, though opened, are left untouched; while those of the rich have been despoiled of the precious metals, the vases have been thrown down, the sarcophagi and urns overturned, and everything left in confusion, as though no corner had been unransacked. In the middle ages, traditions of subterranean treasures were rife in this land, and sorcerers were applied to for their discovery,184 but it does not appear that any systematic researches were carried forward, as in earlier times, and again in our own day.

In the consideration of these vases the question naturally arises — if they are mostly of so foreign a character, either oriental or Greek, now came they in Etruscan tombs? This is a question which has puzzled many a learned man of our age. At the first view of the matter, when the purely Hellenic nature of the design and subjects, and especially the inscriptions in the Greek characters and language, are regarded, the natural response is that they must have been imported; a view which receives confirmation from the recorded fact of an extensive commerce in pottery in ancient times.185 Yet when, on the other hand, the enormous quantities of these vases that have been found in the Etruscan soil, are borne in mind — when it is remembered that these spoils of the dead that within the last twenty years only have been reaped by the excavator, may be reckoned, not by hundreds, or even thousands, but by myriads, and that what have hitherto been found on a few sites only, can bear but a very small proportion to the multitudes still intombed, — when the peculiarities of style attaching to particular localities are considered, the pottery of each site having its distinguishing characteristics, so that an experienced eye is seldom at a loss to pronounce in what cemetery any given vase was found — it must be admitted that there are strong grounds for regarding them as of native manufacture.186 Antiquaries, however, are much divided in opinion as to the origin of these vases; some maintaining them all to be imported from Greece or her colonies; others, to be of Etruscan manufacture; and others, again, endeavouring to reconcile conflicting facts by imagining an extensive population of Greeks settled for ages in Etruria, or at least bodies of Hellenic artists, like the masonic corporations of the middle ages.

But after all what are the speculations of most antiquaries worth, where there are no historic records for guidance, and few other palpable data from which to arrive at the truth — where, in a word, the question resolves itself into one of artistic feeling, much as of archaeological erudition?187 Not to every man is it given to penetrate the mysteries of art — to distinguish the copy from the original in painting or sculpture. Long experience, extensive knowledge, and highly-cultivated taste, are requisite for the discernment of those minute, indefinite, indescribable, but only less real and convincing differences between the original and the imitation. So it is with the ceramographic art. When men, who to vast antiquarian attainments add the experience of many years, whose natural taste had led them to make ancient art in general, but vases in particular, their express study — who have visited every collection in Europe, and have had thousands of specimens year after year submitted to their inspection and judgment — when such men as Gerhard and Braun, renowned throughout Europe for their profound knowledge of the archaeology of art, give their opinion that there is something about most of the vases of Etruria, something in form, design, or feeling, which stamps them as imitations of those of Greece, obviously distinguishable, by them, for the genuine pottery of Attica — we may be content to receive their opinion as decisive, though unable personally to verify it.188

It is worthy of remark that most of the painted vases of Etruria are imitations of those of Athens. The deities represented are chiefly Attic — Minerva, Neptune, Apollo, Diana, Mercury, Bacchus, and Ceres. The myths also are generally Attic; so are the public games, and the scenes taken from ordinary life. Even the inscriptions, with a few exceptions, are in Attic Greek,189 and belong, says Gerhard, to a period of short duration, and which can be determined with precision, being confirmed by the forms of the vases, by the design, and subjects represented. It was not prior to the 74th Olympiad (484 B.C.), nor later than the 124th (284 B.C.) — or between the third and fifth centuries of Rome, when the Greek colonies of Italy were in the height of their power, and before Etruria had lost her independence.190 The Attic character of these vases is the more remarkable, as from the only record we have of Greek artists emigrating to Etruria — namely, with Demaratus, the Corinthian — we might have expected that Doric inscriptions would have prevailed, as on the vases of Sicyon, whereas the fact is that such inscriptions are of very rare occurrence, found only on pottery of the most archaic character.

But there are certain vases not mentioned above, because of so rare occurrence as hardly to form a class, which are undoubtedly of Etruscan manufacture; as they bear both Etruscan subjects and Etruscan inscriptions.191 I am enabled to offer to the notice of the reader a specimen of these vases more remarkable than any yet discovered. It is an amphora, in the late style, with a Bacchic dance on one side,192 and on the other a striking scene of the parting of Admetus and Alcestis, whose names are attached, between the figures of Charun armed with his hammer, and another demon brandishing serpents. I have given it, as a very rare and curious specimen of undoubted Etruscan ceramography, in its natural colours, as a frontispiece to the second volume of this work.193

With the vases I close my notices of Etruscan art.

Such is the people to whose Cities and Cemeteries I propose to conduct the reader. From what has been already stated, he will expect to find traces of no mean degree of civilization, and should he test my descriptions with his own eyes, I think he will not be disappointed. The Etruscans were undoubtedly one of the most remarkable nations of antiquity — the great civilizers of Italy — and their influence not only extended over the whole of the ancient world, but has affected every subsequent age, and has not been without effect, however faint, on the civilization of the nineteenth century, and of regions they never knew.

When we consider the important part they played among the nations of old, it is astonishing that the records of them are so vague and meagre. They did not, it is true, like the Greeks and Romans, trumpet their own fame to posterity, or at least, if it cannot be said

— nulla nota poetae

Illa fuit tellus, jacuit sine carmine sacro,

none of the works of their poets and historians have come down to us.194 And thus, had it not been for their tombs, we should have known them only through the representations of the Greeks and Romans, which would give us a false and most unfavourable impression. For the Greeks describe them as pirates and robbers,195 or as effeminate debauchees;196 the Romans brand them as sluggards,197 gluttons, and voluptuaries.198 Yet the former acknowledged their power at sea, their commercial importance, and their artistic skill; and the latter were forced to confess that to Etruria they owed most of their institutions and arts: still neither have paid that tribute to her civilization which we have now learned to be due, and the Romans have not acknowledged their full amount of "indebtedness: to it — a fact which is seen in the silence or merely incidental acknowledgement of their historians and poets, who would willingly have referred all the refinement of Rome to a Hellenic source.

Though the ancients were reluctant to admit the full worth of Etruria, I can scarcely think with Niebuhr, that she has received from the moderns more than her due share of attention and praise. How far we Transalpines of the nineteenth century are indebted to her civilization is a problem hardly to be solved; but indelible traces of her influence are apparent in Italy. That portion of the Peninsula where civilization earliest flourished, whence infant Rome received her first lessons, as in subsequent ages maintained its pre-eminence. It was on the Etruscan soil that the seeds of culture, dormant through the long winter of barbarism, broke forth anew when a genial spring smiled on the human intellect: it was in Etruria that immortality was first bestowed on the lyre, the canvass, the marble, the science of modern Europe. Here arose

      "the all Etruscan three —
Dante and Petrarch, and scarce less than they,
The Bard of Prose, creative spirit! he
Of the Hundred Tales of love."

It was Etruria which produced Giotto, Brunelleschi, Fra Angelico, Luca Signorelli, Fra Bartolomeo, Michel Angelo,199 Hildebrand, Macchiavelli, "the starry Galileo," and such a noble band of painters, sculptors, and architects, as no other country of modern Europe can boast. Certainly no other region of Italy has produced such a galaxy of brilliant intellects. I leave it to philosophers to determine if there be anything in the climate or natural features of the land to render it thus intellectually prolific. But much may be owing to the natural superiority of the race, which, in spite of the revolutions of ages, remains essentially the same, and preserves a distinctive character;200 just as many traits of the ancient Greek, Gaul, German, and Spaniard may be recognised in their modern descendants. The roots of bygone moral, as well as physical, culture, are not easily eradicated. The wild vine and olive mark many a desert tract to have been once subject to cultivation. And thus ancient civilization will long maintain its traces even in a degenerate soil, and will often germinate afresh on experiencing congenial influences, —

"The wheat three thousand years interred

Will still its harvest bear."

How else comes it that while the Roman of to‑day preserves much of the rudeness of former times — while the Neapolitan in his craft and wiliness betrays his Greek origin — the Tuscan is still the most lively in intellect and imagination, the most highly endowed with a taste for art and literature? May it not be to the deep-seated influences of early civilization that he owes that superior polish and blandness of manner, which entitle Tuscany pre-eminently to the distinction claimed for it of being "a rare land of courtesy"?


The Author's Notes:

114 Liv. I.56.

115 Vitruv, IV.7. Müller (IV.2, 3) thinks Vitruvius took his rules of an Etruscan temple from that of Ceres in the Circus Maximus, dedicated in the year of Rome 261. It is still disputed whether the so‑called Tuscan order is an invention of the Etruscans, or a mere variety of the Doric. For notices of the Etruscan temple, see Müller, Etrusk. III.6; IV.2, 3‑5; Inghirami, Mon. Etrus. IV.pp1‑51; Abeken, Mittelitalien, pp202‑233.

116 Diodor. Sic. V. p316.

117 Vitruv, VI.3; Varro, L. L. V.161; Festus, v. Atrium; Serv. ad Aen. I.726.

118 The reason why no Etruscan temples are standing, while so many of Egypt, Greece, and Rome are yet extant, seems to be that they were constructed principally of wood, which may be learnt from Vitruvius (IV.7), who represents the epistylia as of wood, and the intercolumniations on that account much wider than in temples of the Greek orders. Something may also be learned from the analogy of the tombs, whose ceilings are generally cut into the form of beams rafters, or into coffers — lacunaria — as in the Pantheon.

Thayer's Note: As I have it online, nowhere does Vitruvius explicitly say that in the Tuscan order the epistylia are made of wood; certainly not in Book 4. He may imply it in Book 3, and in a different context in Book 5.

119 Vitruv. III.3.

120 There was a tradition, recorded by Dionysius (I. p21), that the Tyrrheni were the first who raised fortresses in Italy, and that thence they received their name. Cf. Tzetz. in Lycoph. 717.

121 The masonry most common in this district is that to which I have applied the name emplecton, described Vol. I. pp 87, 106.

The peculiar ceremonies which the Romans observed in founding their cities, and which were observed in the case of Rome itself, they received from the Etruscans, with whom this was a very sacred rite. A day was chosen that was pronounced auspicious by the augurs. The founder, having yoked a bull and cow to a brazen plough, the bull outside, the cow within, ploughed a deep furrow round the intended city, while his followers turned all the clods inward to the city. The ridge thus raised marked the line of the gut walls, and the furrow that of the fosse. Wherever the site of a gate was reached, the plough was lifted from the earth, and carried over the proposed roadway; for the walls were deemed to be consecrated by the ceremony of ploughing, and had not the gateways been omitted, they could not have answered the intended purpose. On either side of the walls a space called the pomoerium was also marked out, which was ever after sacred from the plough, and from habitation. Virgil (Aen. V.755; Serv. in loc.) represents Aeneas as founding a city according to the same rite. For authorities, see Vol. II. p250, n8; to which add, Dio Cass. Excerp. Mai, II p527; Serv. ad Aen. V.755; Isid. Orig. XV.2.

Thayer's Note: For fuller details on the pomoerium, see Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, which also links to the article in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome — as well as to another passage by Dennis — and from there, a raft of scholarly articles disagreeing about it in every direction.

122 Sir G. Wilkinson (Mod. Egypt, II. pp189, 218) speaks of some tombs vaulted with sun-dried bricks, which are "proved" by the hieroglyphic inscriptions they bear, to be as old as 1540 years B.C. For two tombs with stone arches, one at the foot of the Pyramids, the other at Sakkara, he does not claim an antiquity higher than 600 years before our era (op. cit. I. pp357, 368), or a period about coeval with the Cloaca Maxima. This, I believe, is also the antiquity claimed by Mr. Layard for the Assyrian arches he has discovered. Cavaliere Canina, the celebrated Roman architect, doubts of the antiquity of the Egyptian arches. Cere Antica, p67. And Mr. Wathen, also a professional authority, who speaks from careful examination, while admitting that the tomb at the foot of the Pyramids presents an instance of a perfect arch, declares that in that of Sakkara, and in the earlier tombs referred to by Wilkinson, the supposed vaulting is a mere lining to the roof of the tomb, hollowed in a friable rock, and does not hold together on the wedge-principle. Ancient Egypt, p234. His testimony is confirmed by other architects who have assured me, from personal inspection, that these very ancient arches are apparent merely, not real. There is no evidence to prove the arch earlier than six centuries before Christ.

123 The bridge referred to is that of Xerokampo, in the neighbourhood of Sparta, discovered by Dr. Ross of Athens. It is on the true arch-principle, and surrounded by polygonal masonry; but it has been pronounced to be of late date and Roman construction. See Vol. II. p275. The gateway is a postern in the city of Oeniadae, whose walls are also of polygonal masonry. Indeed, this city is remarkable for exhibiting in its several gates the progress from the flat lintel to the perfect arch. See Vol. II. p275. There are also some perfect arches in the polygonal walls of Oenoanda, in the Cibyratis, in Asia Minor.

124 The earliest arched structure mentioned in history, and now extant, is the Cloaca Maxima — only the vault of the upper prison of the Mamertine be really that ascribed by Livy (I.33) to Ancus Martius, which is very doubtful — and it dates from the early part of the third century of Rome, or nearly five hundred and fifty years before Christ. How much earlier the principle of the arch may have been discovered, it is impossible to say; but the perfection of the Cloaca Maxima might lead us to suppose a long previous acquaintance with this construction. Canina (Cere Antica, p66) refers the first use of the true arch in Italy to the reign of Tarquinius Priscus, or about six centuries before Christ; to which conclusion he arrives from a comparison of the Cloaca with the Tullianum; and he thinks that Tarquin must have brought the knowledge of it from Tarquinii, and that it was introduced there from Corinth by his father Demaratus; but for this there is no authority in ancient writers.

125 The most remarkable instances in Etruria are the Regulini-Galassi tomb at Cervetri, and the Grotta Sergardi, near Cortona.

126 The only tomb of purely Roman times that I remember to resemble the Etruscan, is that of the Nasones, on the Via Flaminia, a few miles from Rome.

127 Etruscan tombs, however, were often by the way-side, like the Greek and Roman, real monuments — monimenta — warnings and admonitions to the living. Varro, Ling. Lat. VI.45.

128 Vitruv. II.1, 5. See Vol. II. p61. The idea of representing the abodes of the living in the receptacles for the dead, which is quite oriental, was not confined to the Etruscans among the early people of Italy, as is proved by the curious urns of Albano, which are imitations of rude huts formed of boughs and covered with skins. See Vol. II. p495.

129 Gerhard, Ann. Inst. 1831, p111.

130 Micali, Ant. Pop. Ital. II p222.

131 Strabo, who was personally acquainted with the antiquities of the respective lands, remarks the analogy between the art of Egypt, Etruria, and early Greece. XVII. p806. Lanzi (Saggio, II. p172) maintains that this rigid and rectilinear Etruscan style was not necessarily imported from the Nile; but that nature in the infancy of art taught it alike to the Egyptians, Greeks, and Etruscans, for it was not so much art, as the want of art.

132 The specimens of Etruscan art that have come down to us confirm the assertion of Quintilian (XII.10), that the statues of Etruria differed from those of Greece in kind, just as the eloquence of an Asiatic did from that of an Athenian. The Etruscan style, says Lanzi, was the primary and almost the only one in Italy; it seems as though the artists made choice, as was said of Michel Angelo, of the most difficult attitudes, in order to make their works tell more effectively. II. p186. Very similar in style are the few works of Volscian art preserved to us, if indeed these be not Etruscan, either imported, or executed when the land of the Volsci was subject to Etruria. See the singular painted reliefs in terra-cotta, found at Velletri in 1784, and illustrated by Becchetti, and by Inghirami, Mon. Etrus. VI. tav. T 4 — X 4; cf. Micali, Ant. Pop. Ital. tav. LXI.

133 Plin. XXXIV.16. The Etruscans have even the renown of being the inventors of the plastic arts. Clem. Alex. Strom. I. p306.

134 Praeterea elaboratam hanc artem Italiae, et maxime Etruriae. Plin. XXXV.45.

135 The most celebrated were the quadriga on the fastigium of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, and the statue of Summanus on the same temple. The fictile statue of Jupiter was also by an Etruscan artist. Plin. XXVIII.4; XXXV.45; Vitruv. III.3; Cicero, de Divin. I.10; Serv. ad Aen. VII.188; Plutarch, Public.; Festus, v. Ratumena; cf. Propert. IV. l. 5.

136 See Vol. I. p57.

137 Athenaeus (XV. c18, p700), speaking of the skill of the Etruscans in making lamps, calls them φιλοτέχνοι. They obtained this metal from their own mines, probably from those of Montieri — Mons Aeris — near Massa; and worked in it earlier than in iron, which, as Lucretius (V.1286) tells us, is a later discovery.

Et prior aeris erat, quam ferri, cognitus usus.

They had also abundance of iron in the mines of Elba.

138 Tuscanica omnia in aedibus. Varro, ap. Plin. XXXV.45. Tertullian (Apologet. 25) says they inundated the City.

139 Plin. XXXIV.16. One city alone, Volsinii, is said to have contained 2000 statues, which Müller (Etrusk. IV.3, 3) takes to have been of metal.

140 Cassiodor. Var. VII.15.— Statuas primum Thusci in Italiâ invenisse referuntur. Müller (IV.3, 3) refers this to casting in metal.

141 These are the "Tyrrhena sigilla"of Horace, Ep. II.2, 180; though Micali (Ant. Pop. Ital. II p243) thinks the term refers to gems and scarabaei. The "Tuscanica signa" of Pliny (XXXIV.16), which were exported to many lands, were probably statues of larger size.

142 Plin. XXXIV.18.

143 There is no doubt that it is either the figure mentioned by Dionysius (I. p65) as χάλκεα ποίηματα παλαιᾶς ἐργασίας, and by Livy (X.23) as existing in the year of Rome, 457, or that recorded by Cicero as having been struck by lightning. De Divin. II.20; in Catil. III.8.

144 The brass gates from the spoils of Veii, which Camillus was accused to appropriating to himself (Plutarch, Camill.), were probably adorned with reliefs. Müller, Etrusk. IV.3, 4.

145 Ap. Athen. XV. c18, p700. For candelabra see Vol. II pp204, 514.

146 Athen. I. c22, p28.

147 Müller, Etrusk. IV.3, 4. Gerhard (Ann. Inst. 1837, 2, p143), however, is of opinion that these bronze works of the Etruscans had their origin in Greece. But the fact that Greek inscriptions have never been found on any of the Etruscan bronzes, seems opposed to this opinion. For the painted vases, which confessedly have a Greek origin, have almost invariably inscriptions in that language.

148 Pollux, VII.22; cf. Plin. XXXVI.4, 4. The Etruscans indeed paid particular attention to their feet — much more than the Greeks, who often went bare-footed, whereas the former wore shoes or sandals, richly embossed and gilt, or fastened by gilt thongs. Pollux, loc. cit.; Plin. loc. cit.; Ovid. Amor. III.13, 26. Thus Etruscan figures are often represented naked in every other part but the feet. As in other articles of costume, the Etruscans here set the fashion to the Romans. It is probable that the sort of Etruscan calceus, which Servius (ad Aen. VIII.458) says was worn by Roman senators, was the boot or buskin preed on the figures of the tombs of Tarquinii. For further notices on this subject, see Müller, Etrusk. I.3, 10‑11.

149 Plin. XXXIV.16.

150 Plin. XIV.2.

151 For the cippi of Chiusi, see Vol. II. p338, et seq. For the warriors in the Museum of Volterra and in the Palazzo Bonarroti of Florence, see Vol. II pp107, 202.

152 Micali (Ant. Pop. Ital. II p246) takes the Volterra urns to be, some of the seventh or eighth century of Rome, others as late as the Antonines, and others of still later date. See Vol. II. p201.

153 The inferiority of Etruscan sculpture may be partly attributed to the local stone, which except in the case of alabaster and travertine, neither used in very early times, was too coarse and too friable to do justice to the skill of the artist. The marble of Carrara, to which Rome was so much indebted, does not appear to have been known to the Etruscans, though that of the Maremma was; yet very few works of the Etruscan chisel in marble have come down to us. See Vol. II. p83.

154 Pliny (XXX.30) tells us the beetle received this adoration because it rolled balls of dirt, alluding to its habit of pushing backwards with its hind feet small bits of dung or earth — verily the most grovelling idea of Deity that the human mind ever conceived. Pliny adds that Apion, the Egyptian, who sought to excuse the degraded rites of his countrymen, explained the worship of the beetle by some similarity in it to the operations of the sun — "a curious interpretation," as Pliny remarks.

155 The genuine Egyptian scarabaei are of smalt, porphyry, basalt, or some very hard stone; the Etruscan are of cornelian, sardonyx, and agate, rarely of chalcedony; a few have been found of smalt. The Egyptian are truthful representations of the insect; the Etruscan are exaggerated resemblances, especially in the back, which is set up to an extravagant height. The flat or under part of the stone, which is always the side engraved, in the Egyptian bears hieroglyphics, or representations of deities; in the Etruscan, though sometimes with imitations of Egyptian subjects, it has generally figures or groups taken from the Greek mythology, of which the deeds of Hercules, or of the heroes of the Theban and Trojan wars, are the favourite subjects. More rare are figures of the gods, and of the chimaeras and other symbols of the Etruscan creed. And not a few have palaestric representations. They often bear designatory inscriptions in Etruscan characters.

156 Great difference of opinion has been entertained as to the date of these gems. Gori (Mus. Etrus. II. p437) supposed them to be coeval with, or even anterior to, the Trojan War. Winckelman, though maintaining their high antiquity, took more moderate views. But it is now the general opinion, founded on a more intimate acquaintance and a wider range of comparison, that they must be referred to a late, rather than to a very early period of Etruscan art.

157 One, however, now in the possession of the Canon Pasquini of Chiusi, was found set in an earring of gold. Bull. Inst. 1837, p46.

158 See Vol. II. p375. Scarabaei are also found, though rarely, in other parts of Italy, as at Palestrina in Latium (Abeken, Mittelitalien, p325). They have also been discovered in Greece, e.g. a celebrated one, bearing a Greek inscription, found among the ruins of Aegina (Bull. Inst. 1840, p140), and one from Attica, now in the Museum of Athens (Ann. Inst. 1837, 2, p144). In the British Museum are two found at Leucas in Acarnania. Gerhard (Ann. Inst. loc. cit.) is even of opinion that these gems may have had their origin in Greece. They have been found also in Asia Minor (Bull. Inst. 1839, p104); and some have decided marks of a Babylonian or Phoenician origin. Bull. Inst. 1840, p141.

159 A few mirrors have been found without handles, but these are liable to be confounded with the capsulae, or cases for these instruments, which are formed of two round plates ornamented in a similar manner, or sometimes with reliefs, and hinged together like the valves of an oyster-shell. No instances have been found of Etruscan mirrors in the precious metals, or adorned with precious stones, or of so vast a size as were used by the luxurious Romans — Specula totis paria corporibus auro argentoque caelata sunt, denique gemmis adornata. Seneca, Nat. Quaest. I.17.

160 Inghir. Mon. Etrus. II pp1‑77.

161 Micali alone, to the last of his life, held to the old doctrine of paterae, a word now so completely superseded by specula, that he would use it in reference to these instruments would scarcely be intelligible.

162 Ann. Inst. 1840, p150; see also Gerhard's Etruskische Spiegel, pp82‑4, for proofs of these instruments being mirrors. It would seem, however, from certain scenes on painted vases, where women washing at fountains are represented with these instruments in their hands, that they served a secondary purpose of casting water over the body, the concave side serving as a bowl to hold the liquid. Ann. Inst. 1840, p150 — Braun. These mirrors are generally designated "mystic" by the Italians; and verily if mystic be synonymous with everything unreal, unlike nature, and incomprehensible, the term is often not misapplied, for never were there more grotesque and ludicrous distortions of form and feature than are to be found on many of them. He who turns over Gerhard's illustrated volumes will find amusement, as well as instruction. That learned antiquary, however, gives solid grounds for his belief that these mirrors have no mystic import, that they were instruments of personal rather than of sacred used, and served no other mysteries than those of the bath and toilet (p76).

163 A beautiful specimen of this class is that in the Museo Gregoriano, representing Aurora carrying Memnon. See Vol. II p519. Another, in the British Museum, represents Minerva overcoming Hercules.

164 The most frequent representation is that of the winged goddess of Fate, some called "Lasa" (Vol. II. p68), or of the Dioscuri.

165 The beautiful mirror in the frontispiece represents "Phuphluns," or Bacchus, embracing his mother "Semla," or Semele. It was found at Vulci, and is in the possession of Professor E. Gerhard of Berlin, who has illustrated it in his Etruskische Spiegel, taf. LXXXIII; for. Mon. Ined. Inst. I. tav LVI. A. The illustration here presented to the British public is drawn by Mr. George Scharf, from a cast of the original, reduced to half its size. It is perhaps the most beautiful specimen of Etruscan design on metal that has come down to us.

166 Bull. Inst. 1836, p18. Hitherto these mirrors have been considered as particularly Etruscan, but of late years others precisely like them have been found in the tombs of Athens and Aegina. Gerhard, Ann. Inst. 1837, 2, p143. Gerhard even supposes them to have had a Greek origin; but it is remarkable that though they have ogn Greek myths, and Greek names, not one has ever been found in Etruria with a Greek inscription, though the painted vases are almost invariably inscribed in that language. The same may be said of the other Etruscan works in bronze. Ann. Inst. 1834, p57 — Bunsen. Several mirrors, however, have been found with Latin epigraphs. Gerhard, Etrusk. Spieg. taf. 147, 171, 182; Inghirami, Mon. Etrus. II. tav. 41.

167 Plin. XXXV.6. These paintings were extant in Pliny's day; so also some in temples at Ardea and Lanuvium, of nearly equal antiquity. He remarks on the speedy perfection this art attained, as it seemed not to have been practised in Trojan times.

168 Gerhard, Ann. Inst. 1831, pp15, 201; Bunsen, Ann. Inst. 1834, pp63‑70.

169 The favourite representation is that of a lion and boar, glaring angrily on each other. The notion of encounters between these animals must have been prevalent in very ancient times, as such representations are frequent on the most archaic vases, and on other early works of Greek art (Hesiod. Scut. Herc. 168). Nor is it yet obsolete, as we learn from the curious story of a combat between a lion and a boar, told by Mr. Hay in his entertaining work on "Western Barbary" (Murray's Colonial Library), of which the scenes on these Etruscan vases might serve as illustrations.

" 'God is great!' said the lioness;— 'O God! all merciful Creator! What an immense boar! What an infidel! What a Christian of a pig!'

" 'May God burn your great-great‑grandmother!' said the boar.

"On hearing the creature curse her parent, the lioness stopped, and, lashing her tail, roared with a voice that the whole wood re-echoed, and she said, 'There is no conqueror but God.' "

170 So Gerhard designates it in his Rapporto Volcente, Ann. Inst. 1831, p18. Bunsen calls it Attic, in distinction to the Doric character of the preceding style.

171 In this class of vases, though the faces are invariably in profile, the eyes of the males are always round, those of the females long and almond-shaped, just of that form usually represented in Egyptian paintings.

172 See Vol. II p499. Vases with this same subject have been found in Greece, and Magna Graecia, as well as in Etruria. Professor Ross thinks it ix copied from some famous picture. It is a proof of the unity of Greek art in different countries. Bull. Inst. 1841, p85.

173 As the art of the former class of vases resembles that of the metopes of Selinus mentioned above, the figures on this class may be said to correspond with two metopes from another temple in the same place, which represent Minerva overcoming a warrior.

174 It is this class of vases which is most abundant at Vulci.

175 The inscription is ΤΟΗΑΘΕΗΕΘΕΗΑΘΛΟΗτῶν Ἀθήνηθεν ἄθλων — sometimes with the addition of ΕΜΙ for εἰμὶ, as in the first of these vases found at Athens, and now in the British Museum. It stands by the side of several similar vases found at Vulci in Etruria, and it is well to compare one of the original type with the foreign copies, which differ in several respects. For notices of the Panathenaic vases see Böckh, Bull. Inst. 1832, pp91‑98; Ambrosch, Ann. Inst. 1833, pp64‑89. The learned Padre Secchi, of Rome, maintains that this inscription intimates rather an imitation of the Athenian contests, than of the Athenian vases, and would interpret it, "one of the contests from Athens," instead of "one of the prizes from Athens," as is usually done. Bull. Inst. 1843, p75. Instead of the cocks on the columns, there are sometimes owls, panthers, or vases.

176 The forms with which this style is associated are generally the amphora, the calpis, an elegant variety of the water-jar, the crater, or mixing-vase, the olpe, or jug, the cylix or drinking-bowl, and the lecythus, or cruet. It is for vases of this style that Nola is particularly renowned. These vases were often given as nuptial presents, or as prizes at the palaestric games; and are to be distinguished from the Panathenaic, or those given at the solemn public gates, which had invariably black figures on a yellow ground. Vases of this third style with coloured figures on a white ground, like the Silenus-crater in the Gregorian Museum (vol. II p497), are very rare in Etruria, though not uncommon in Greece and her colonies; beautiful specimens of them are among the Athenian lecythi in the British Museum.

177 This is the name given them by Gerhard, Ann. Inst. 1831, p24.

178 One of the most beautiful vases of this style, from Magna Graecia, is in the British Museum. It represents the Garden of the Hesperides. This style seems to bear the same relation to the preceding that Phigaleian marbles do to those of the Parthenon. It is admitted to be as late as the sixth century of Rome, or two hundred years before Christ.

179 Yet many of them are only varnished outside, and but partially — not at all within; so that they could not have served for liquids. Ann. Inst. 1831, p97. Many may have been used by the relatives at the parentalia, or funeral feasts, and left as sacred in the tomb.

180 The notion of feeding the souls of the departed was very general among the ancients. In Egypt, for instance, the tomb of Osiris, in the Isle of Philae in the Nile, contained 360 vessels — χοαὶ — which were daily filled with milk by the priests. Diod. Sic. I p19, ed. Rhod. In Greece the souls were supposed to be fed by the libations and feasts held at the sepulchre. Lucian, de Luctu, p809, ed. 1615. And so in Italy, where the manes were appeased by libations of wine, milk, and blood; and the wailing-women therefore beat their breasts to force out the milk, and tore their flesh to make the blood flow; all for the satisfaction of the departed. Serv. ad Aen. V.78. A similar custom, probably of equal antiquity, prevails in China, of making an annual "feast for the hungry ghosts." It was the custom of the ancients to burn on the funeral pure the vases containing oil, honey, or other offerings to the dead. Hom. Iliad. XXIII.170; Virg. Aen. VI.255; Serv. in loc. Vases are often found in the tombs of Etruria, as well as of Greece, and her colonies in Italy, which retain manifest proofs of subjection to fire.

181 This is sometimes the case with those of Sicily and Magna Graecia, especially of Apulia and Lucania; more rarely with those of Etruria. A curious but beautiful conceit on certain of these cinerary vases is uttered by Sir Thomas Browne, in his Hydriotaphia, chap. III. "Most imitate a circular figure, in a spherical and round composure; whether from any mystery, best duration, or capacity, were but a conjecture. But the common form with necks was a proper figure, making our last bed like our first; nor much unlike the urns of our nativity, while we lay in the nether part of the earth, and inward vault of out microcosm."

182 Strabo (VIII. p381) says the Romans did not leave a tomb untouched at Corinth in their search for the vases and bronzes. Suet. J. Caes. LXXXI. Robbers of tombs were not uncommon in ancient times, in Egypt and Greece as well as Italy, and were execrated, as resurrectionists are at the present day.

Pliny states that in his time fictile vases, by which he probably meant those that were painted, fetched more money than the celebrated Murrhine vases, the cost of which he records (XXXV.46; XXXVII.7); and which are supposed to have been of porcelain. That these painted vases were very rare in his day is confirmed by the fact that not one had been discovered among the ruins of Pompeii or Herculaneum.

183 It is known that Theodoric, the Goth, sanctioned the spoliation of ancient sepulchres, yet restricted it to precious metals, commanding the ashes to be left — "quia nolumus lucra quaeri, quae per funesta scelera possunt reperiri;" and he justified his decree on the ground that that was not stolen which had no owner, and that that ought not to be left with the dead, which would serve to keep the living — "aurum enim sepulcris juste detrahitur, ubi dominus non habetur: immo culpae genus est inutiliter abditis relinquere mortuorum, unde se vita potest sustentare viventium. Non est enim cupiditas eripere quae nullus se dominus ingemiscat amisisse." Cassiodor. Var. IV.34. The same feeling was shown in the laws of the Twelve Tables, which forbade the burial of gold in sepulchres, — "Neve aurum addito," — unless the teeth of the corpse happened to be fastened with it. "Quoi auro dentes vincti escunt, ast im cum illo sepelire urereve, se fraude esto." Cicero, de Leg. II.24.

184 Micali, Mon. Ined. p362.

185 Plin. XXXV.46.— Haec per maria terrasque ultro citroque ponuntur, insignibus rotae officinis. The pottery of Athens was carried by the Phoenician traders to the far western coast of Africa, and bartered for leopard-skins and elephant-teeth. See Grote's Greece, III. p364.

186 There are, moreover, facts which confirm this view. The inscriptions, though in Greek characters, are not unfrequently utterly unintelligible — such collocations of letters as are foreign to every dialect of Greek. Half a dozen consonants, for instance, occur in juxtaposition. Ann. Inst. 1831, pp72, 122, 171, et seq. This unknown tongue, which is frequently found on vases of the Archaic style, may, in some cases, thinks Gerhard, be Etruscan in Greek letters. Ann. Inst. 1831, p171. In the place of characters a row of dots is sometimes found, as though the copyist would not venture to imitate what he did not comprehend, or as though it were an attempt of the blind to mislead the blind. Yet from the extensive commercial intercourse of Etruria with Greece and her colonies, many of the Etruscans must have known Greek. Sometimes a genuine inscription appears to have been incorrectly copied, the blunders being such as could hardly have been made by Greeks. Many of the vases also have Etruscan monograms, beneath the foot, scratched in the clay apparently before it was baked. On the vases of Nola such monograms are also found, but in Oscan characters. Gerhard, Ann. Inst. 1831, pp74, 177. Another argument for the Italian manufacture of these vases is that the shields of Minerva, on those of Panathenaic character, often bear the devices of the Italian cities. Bull. Inst. 1843, p75.

187 "Des jugemens qui émanent du sentiment," observes a shrewd and learned Frenchman, "peuvent difficilement se réduire en règle, et, sous ce rapport, beaucoup d'amateurs presque ignorans l'emporteraient sur les plus célèbres antiquaires, parceque, pour l'antiquité figurée, les livres et les plus vastes études suppléent moins au goût, que le goût et l'intelligence ne peuvent suppléer à l'érudition." Duc de Luynes, Ann. Inst. 1832, p146.

188 This does not preclude the supposition that some of the vases found in Etruria are of Greek manufacture, either imported from Greece or her colonies, or made by Greek residents in the former land. Gerhard would divide Etruscan vases into three classes.

I. Those purely Greek in character.

II. Those also Greek, but modified as if by Greek residents in Etruria.

III. Those of Etruscan manufacture, in imitation of Greek.

It is clear that though the art of painted pottery originated in Greece, it was more highly developed in Etruria and other parts of Italy. For there is a much greater variety of form and style in the vases of these countries than in those of Greece, and those descriptions common to both lands are carried to a much larger size in Italy. Gerhard, Bull. Inst. 1832, p75; Ann. Inst. 1837, 2, pp134, et seq.

189 The inscriptions are for the most part designatory; the several figures having their appellations attached. The names of the potter and painter are also not unfrequently recorded; the former being united with ΕΠΟΙΕΙ or ΕΠΟΙΕΣΕΗ; the latter with ΕΓΡΑΦΣΕ.º Other inscriptions refer to the possessor of the vase, and either mention his name with the addition of ΚΑΛΟΣ, or ΗΟ ΠΑΙΣ ΚΑΛΟΣ, showing the vase to have been a gift to some "beautiful youth." When this inscription is repeated in the feminine, it probably marks a nuptial present. Other salutatory expressions are sometimes found, such as ΧΑΙΡΕ ΣΥ "hail to thee!" or ΗΟΣΟΗΔΕΠΟΤΕΕΥΘΡΟΗ "happy as possible!" On those of domestic use we often find ΧΑΙΡΕΚΑΙΠΙΕΙ — "hail, number drink!" or sometimes ΠΙΕΙΜΕ "drink me!" as though the goblet itself were speaking. The inscription on the Panathenaic vases has already been mentioned. The places where the vases were made are never indicated, as on the red pottery of Arretium.

190 Ann. Inst. 1831, pp99, et seq. 201; Bull. Inst. 1831, pp164‑7. Bunsen assigns the vases of the best or latest style to a period between the 74 and 94 Olympiads (484‑404 B.C.). Ann. Inst. 1834, p62. Those of the first or Egyptian style must be of much higher antiquity, perhaps as early as the 50th Olympiad, or 580 B.C.; and some may even belong to the time of Demaratus, or 660 B.C. Abeken, Mittelitalien, p292.

191 In 1834 very few of this class were known. One was an amphora of ancient style, having birds with human heads — and the inscription in Etruscan letters "Kape Mukathesa." Another, a stamnos in the third style, showed a Victory writing the Etruscan word "Lasna" in an open book. Two other amphorae of late style had inscriptions in a mixture of Greek and Etruscan, and one had the name "Aruns" in Etruscan on the handle. Two others were craters — one with ajax, Penthesilea, and Actaeon in Etruscan characters; the other with Ajax slaying a Trojan captive, and "Charun" standing by, ready to seize his victim. Ann. Inst. 1831, pp73, 175; 1834, pp54‑56; pp264‑294; Mon. Ined. Inst. tav. VIII. IX.

192 See the woodcut at the head of the Introduction.

193 This amphora was found at Vulci, and is now in the possession of Dr. Emil Braun of Rome, through whose kindness I am enabled to offer this illustration, reduced from a tracing of the original. The scene represents Admetus — "Atimite" — at his last hour, when the winged messenger of Death is come to claim him, and threatens him with serpents. As it had been decreed by the Fates that if one of his nearest relatives would become his substitute his life would be spared, his wife Alcestis — "Alcsti," in Etruscan — comes forward to devote herself in his room, and takes a farewell embrace, while a second demon, apparently Charun himself, stands behind her with his mallet raised, about to strike the fatal blow.

The inscription between the last two figures would run thus in Roman letters — "Eca. Ersce. Nac. Achrum. Plherthrce." It has been considered by Dr. Braun (Bull. Inst. 1847, pp81‑86) to imply that Eca (a proper name) dedicated this vase to Acheron. But if I may suggest another version, in a matter which must be principally conjecture, I would say that "Eca" can hardly be a proper name, for it is found frequently in connection with Suthi, as a formula, on sepulchral monuments, and is probable equivalent to haec or ecce. "Ersce," in which Dr. Braun finds an analogy to ἔργον, I would interpret by one of the few Etruscan words whose meaning has come down to us from the ancients — arse, which Festus says meant averte. "Nac is a particle, to which we have no clue, and whose meaning must be learned from the rest of the sentence. "Achrum" is apparently Acheron. Whether "Phlerthrce" be one word or two, its meaning is pretty obvious, for "Phlere," or "Phleres," occurs frequently on votive bronzes, and in connection with "Turce," and is generally admitted to be a dedicatory formula. The meaning of the whole, then, I take to be this — "Lo! she saves him from Acheron, and makes an offering of herself." For another interpretation see Bull. Inst. 1847, pp86‑88.

194 "Troy herself," says Philostratus, "would not have been, had not Homer lived. He was verily the founder of Ilium" (cited by Lanzi, Sagg. II p174).

195 Many of the passages containing this charge refer doubtless to the Tyrrhene-Pelasgi rather than to the Etruscans, properly so called, but as the former race formed an ingredient in the population of Etruria, it is difficult always to draw the distinction. Yet there is still evidence enough to convict the Etruscans of this practice. Strabo, V. pp219, 220; VI. p267; Diod. Sic. V. p292; XI. p66. The Romans also laid this charge distinctly to the Etruscans. Cicero, de Repub. II.4; Serv. ad Aen. VIII.479; X.184. See Niebuhr, I. p127, et seq. Piracy, however, in those days, be it remembered, was an honourable profession — a legitimate field for glory. Thucyd. I.5; Justin. XLIII.3.

196 For the charges of inordinate luxury see the statements of Timaeus, Posidonius, and Theopompus, ap. Athen. IV. c13, p153; XII c3, pp517, 518; Diod. Sic. V. p316; Dion. Hal. II. p105; IX. p575. Niebuhr (I. p141) rejects the statements of Theopompus on this head, not only on account of his being unworthy of credit, but because "there are no licentious representations on any Etruscan works of art." Though the accounts of Theopompus may be exaggerated, as Müller (Etrusk. I.3, 12) supposes, yet Niebuhr is greatly mistaken as to the purity of the Etruscans. For to say nothing of the painted vases, which are illustrative rather of Greek Roman Etruscan manners, and on which the most abominable indecencies ever conceived are sometimes represented, there is evidence enough on works of undoubtedly Etruscan art, such as sepulchral paintings and bronze mirrors, to convict the Etruscans of being little or no better than their neighbours in purity of life.

197 Virg. Aen. XI.732 — Semper inertes Tyrrheni!

198 Virg. Aen. XI.736 —

At non in Venerem segnes nocturnaque bella;
Aut, ubi curva choros indixit tibia Bacchi,
Expectare dapes, et plenae pocula mensae.
Hic amor, hoc studium.

Cf. Georg. II.193; Catul. XXXIX.11.

199 Raffaelle also, if he does not belong strictly to Etruria Proper, was born not far from the frontiers, and in a region that was possessed by the Etruscans. Besides he was educated in the Perugian school. Yet if we were to claim as the sons of Etruria the natives of those lands beyond the Apennines and the Tiber which once belonged to her, there would be very few illustrious Italian names, either of ancient or modern times, which would be excluded from the category.

200 Micali (Ant. Pop. Ital. I p101; III. p11, maintains the analogy, in physiognomy and craniological development, between the ancient Etruscans and the modern inhabitants of Tuscany.


Thayer's Note:

a The reference is almost certainly to the Tempio del Belvedere at Orvieto, first excavated in 1828. Pending my own write-up of it, for a good photograph and some further details, see this page at Monte Peglia.

Page updated: 10 Sep 12