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Etruscan wall-painting

Etruscan art was the form of figurative art produced by the Etruscan civilization in northern Italy between the 9th and 2nd centuries BC. Particularly strong in this tradition were figurative sculpture in terracotta (particularly life-size on sarcophagi or temples) and cast bronze, wall-painting and metalworking (especially engraved bronze mirrors and situlae).



The mysterious origins of this people, and consequently of their artistic style, dates back to the people who inhabited or were expelled from Asia Minor during the Bronze Age and Iron Age, though other ancient cultures influenced Etruscan art (due to proximity or commercial contact), such as Greece, Phoenicia, Egypt, Assyria and the Middle East. However, its apparently simple character in the Hellenistic era conceals an innovative, characteristic and unique style whose apogee coincided with the Greek archaic period which would come to have a deep influence on the Roman art which would later entirely absorb it in the 1st century AD.


Ancient art history
Middle East
Ancient Egypt
European prehistory
Classical art
Ancient Greece
  • 800-650 BC - "Oriental" or "Orientalising" period. Due to cultural exchanges amongst Mediterranean civilizations at this time, especially with Ancient Greece, a figurative tradition appeared in Etruscan art that was based on Greek models.
  • 650-500 BC - Archaic period - Ionic and Corinthian influences. Due to more and more exchanges and due to the structure of Etruscan society, new artistic techniques emerged. Painting became highly developed in this period, as did painted sculpture in terracotta and vase-painting.
  • 500-300 BC - Classical period - Peak; still marked by Greek influence; less and less art produced due to internal and external political and military crises, with the exception of the bronzes from Vulci.
  • 300-100 BC - late phase; absorbed into Roman culture.

Art and religion

An ancient Etruscan necklace (University of Pennsylvania Museum)

Etruscan art was often religious in character and, hence, strongly connected to the requirements of Etruscan religion. The Etruscan afterlife was negative, in contrast to the positive view in ancient Egypt where it was but a continuation of earthly life, or the confident relations with the gods as in ancient Greece. The Etruscan gods were hostile and tended to bring misfortune, and so Etruscan religion was centered on interpreting their will and accepting or satisfying it. However, on the other hand, most remains of Etruscan funerary art have been found in excavations of cemeteries (as at Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Populonia, Orvieto, Vetulonia, Norchia), meaning that what we see of Etruscan art is primarily dominated by depictions of religion and in particular the funerary cult, whether or not that is a true reflection of Etruscan art as a whole.

Etruscan sculpture

Strongly influenced by ancient Greek sculpture, famous examples include:

Etruscan painting

The Etruscan paintings that have survived to modern times are mostly wall frescoes from graves, and mainly from Tarquinia. These are incredibly important as the most important example of pre-Roman figurative art in Italy known to scholars.

The frescoes consist of painting on top of fresh plaster, so that when the plaster is dried the painting becomes part of the plaster and an integral part of the wall, which helps it survive so well (indeed, almost all of surviving Etruscan and Roman painting is in fresco). Colours were made from stones and minerals in different colours that ground up and mixed in a medium, and fine brushes were made of animal hair (even the best brushes are produced with ox hair). From the mid 4th century BC chiaroscuro began to be used to portray depth and volume. Sometimes scenes of everyday life are portrayed, but more often traditional mythological scenes. The concept of proportion does not appear in any surviving frescoes and we frequently find portrayals of animals or men with some body-parts out of proportion. One of the best-known Etruscan frescoes is that of Tomb of the Lioness at Tarquinia.


  • Spivey, Nigel (1997). Etruscan Art. London: Thames and Hudson.  

See also



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