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
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.