Etruscan Art: Characteristics, Materials & Processes

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  • 0:01 The Etruscans
  • 0:34 Etruscan Tomb Art
  • 1:58 Etruscan Statues
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the art of the Etruscans, a great Italian civilization that predated the ancient Romans. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Etruscans

Who were the Etruscans? It's a good question, because most of us haven't heard much about them. When we think of ancient Italy, we often think about the Romans, but who was in Italy before the Romans? There had to be somebody, and that somebody was the Etruscans, a powerful Italian civilization that thrived from roughly 700-400 BCE. The Etruscans were the first major civilization in Italy, and they began the tradition of filling Italy with art.

Etruscan Tomb Art

The Etruscans lived a long time ago and, unfortunately, lots of their culture has been lost. What has survived is mostly found in large, underground tombs. Like many ancient cultures, the Etruscans painted the insides of their tombs with large, ornate murals. However, Etruscan tombs are unique. While most ancient cultures filled tombs with murals of mythology or religion, the Etruscans filled theirs with scenes of daily life. This is the Tomb of the Leopards, an Etruscan tomb that dates to roughly 480 BCE. See all the figures standing around, hanging out? This is a banquet scene, a lively feast - not some solemn vision of the afterlife. Other Etruscan murals included scenes of hunting, fishing, and even cliff diving. Not the sort of images we generally expect to see in a tomb.

Picture of the Tomb of the Leopards

Etruscan tombs were not dark, solemn places. In fact, they were designed to closely resemble Etruscan homes, with banquet rooms, couches, and beds. This tomb is called the Tomb of the Reliefs. See all the objects carved from the rock and painted to look as real as possible? These are items from daily life, farming tools, pots, pans, stools, mirrors, pitchers, and drinking cups. Etruscan tombs closely connected the world of the dead to that of the living.

Image of the Tomb of the Reliefs

Etruscan Statues

One of the other major forms of Etruscan art that has survived are statues. Etruscan statues were generally made of terracotta, or baked clay. There are two places that we generally find Etruscan statues. One is from the ruins of Etruscan temples, which are rare. These temples were generally covered in life-size terracotta statues, such as this one of Apollo.

Image of terracotta Apollo statue

The other place we find Etruscan terracotta statues are back in those tombs. In tombs, however, the statues are generally the lids for sarcophagi, holding the actual remains of the dead. This is a typical Etruscan sarcophagi. The lid contains a life-size portrait of the person whose remains are inside, posed reclining on a couch. This is how Etruscans dined at banquets, reclining on couches; so once again we see the connection between the tomb and the idea of a feast.

An Etruscan sarcaphogi
Image of Etruscan sarcaphogi

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