Etruscan art in Italy (800 BC–264 BC)

Cave paintings in Lascaux, dating back about 17,000 years, Etruscan art in Italy (800 BC–264 BC), Italy, Italy (Photo by unknown)
Cave paintings in Lascaux, dating back about 17,000 years

The ancient Italians who taught the Romans a thing or two about art, architecture, and planning

The pre-Etruscan Villanovians have left us little more than pottery shards, and the Etruscan’s neighbors the Umbri even less. The prehistoric art of greatest note in Tuscany are the Lunigiana cult’s statue-stele in Pontrémoli, which is only part of Tuscany on political maps; the culture and the art really belongs to the Ligurian peoples of the nearby coastal province.

The Etruscans were prodigious town planners. In architecture they used the load-bearing arch, raised rectangular temples approached by steps as the Romans would later adopt, and built houses with open atrium courtyards surrounded by a colonnaded portico on the inner face—the same basic model of Roman houses and, with a few modifications, the Renaissance palazzo.

Although precious little painting survives outside a few tombs in northern Lazio (Orvieto and Chiusi both have a little), the Etruscans were masters of this art form as well, and they painted in fresco to boot—scenes rich in the pleasures of everyday life, especially banqueting.

What we have most of is their sculpture, which went through an idiosyncratic archaic period, with some Oriental influences, through an Attic period influenced by the art of ancient Greece, and was finally subsumed under the Hellenistic Roman style. They cranked out thousands of votive bronzes[md]small representations of warriors, washer women, and farmers plowing[md]occasionally producing works of singular expressive beauty, such as Volterra’s famed Shadow of the Evening. 

Their most famous forms of sculpture are their funerary urns, which were capped with a lid carved into a likeness of the deceased, half-reclining as if at an eternal banquet. Most of these have intense expressions, a stylized but undiluted realism, and enigmatic smiles that have made them a popular modern image to represent Etruria in general.

As Greek culture seeped in in the 6th century BC, the cinerary urns under these lids were increasingly carved with reliefs depicting scenes from Greek mythology, often having to do with the movement to the underworld (riding in carts, boats, chariots, etc.).

Where to find Etrucan art in Italy

Etruscan remains are mostly confined to museums (the best are in Tuscan towns Volterra, Cortona, Chiusi, and at Rome in the Villa Giulia and Vatican Museums).

Notable works include the bronze Chimera at Florence's archaeology museum, carved alabaster urns and the elongated bronze statuette Shade of the Evening in Volterra's Guarnacci museum, terracotta sarcofagi covers of reclining figures in museums across Tuscany and in Rome's Villa Giulia.

There are also some tomb paintings surviving at Tarqunia in Lazio and Chiusi in Tuscany.

Where to find Etruscan art art in Italy

Mars of Todi (Photo by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT)

The Vatican's amazing collection of ancient Etruscan artifacts

The 4C BC Chimera di Arezzo (Photo by Alex Berger)
Museo Archeologico
Florence: San Lorenzo / San Marco

This embarrassingly rich collection of exquisite antiquities from around the world is overlooked by most Florence visitors who are in full-throttle Renaissance mode

Archeological Museum
Mainland Siracusa

The archeological museum in Siracusa is one of the most important collections in Southern Italy

Various archaeological artefacts on display outside the Museo Provinciale di Torcello on Torcello (Photo by Ethan Doyle White)
Archaeological Museum of Torcello
Venice: The Northern Lagoon

The small Museo Archeologico della Provincia di Venezia di Torcello

Castello Scaligero
Garda's eastern shore

A postcard little castle with a modest museum, small vineyard, and lake views

Museo Archeologico
Southern Perugia

Umbria's main archaeological museum