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Etruscan Painting

( Originally Published 1894 )

The Etruscans were an important early Italian people who appear to have come to Italy around the eighth century B.C. and presumably from a Greekinfluenced part of Asia Minor. By the sixth century B.C. this vital group of farmers, merchants, fighters and pirates had won control of the central part of Italy, the section known today as Tuscany. Within their luxurious culture they developed the art of bronze sculpture, especially in portraiture, fine ceramics and very skillfully constructed aqueducts, sewers, forts, city gates and bridges, transmitting these various skills to their Roman successors. Interested in the life after death, like many other Asiatic peoples, the Etruscans built elaborate tombs whose walls, covered with impressive paintings, give us a concrete and detailed picture of Etruscan life. The bulk of these painted tombs date from the fifth century B.C. and reflect in a very clear way the contemporary pictorial style of ancient Greece (see GREEK PAINTING). Figures are ideally proportioned and generally calm in pose and three-dimensional in bulk. Perhaps as a result of the Oriental nature of the influence they underwent in their original Asia Minor home, this art tends to be decorative in its general effect, the colors unnaturalistically bright and the flowers flatly patterned. The greatest difference between this art and that of the Greeks proper lies in the generally morbid quality of its expression. This may be owing in part to the fact that it is a tomb art, but Greek grave figures are by no means morbid, nor are those of China. It would seem, rather, that the Etruscans, like the Assyrians, had something in their mental attitude that gave their pictorial art this melancholy quality. Ultimately the three-dimensional form and the seriousness of Etruscan painting appeared in the art of the Romans, who had by 280 B.C. overwhelmed Etruria.

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