Larissa Bonfante— 2007 Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement

Award Citation:

Etruscan culture has lost much of its mystery and gained considerable allure thanks to the prolific scholarly work of Larissa Bonfante. Her dedication to the study of this Italic culture began while she was an undergraduate, first at Radcliffe College, then at Barnard, where she earned her bachelor’s degree. Her early fieldwork at Cerveteri with the renowned Massimo Pallottino contributed to the important role that material culture and context play in her research.

Bonfante’s first major publication, Etruscan Dress (1975), derived from her dissertation for Columbia University. This important cultural and iconographic study was the basis for further examination of costume in ancient societies, such as “Nudity as a Costume in Classical Art” (AJA 93 [1989] 543–70).  In tribute to the lasting significance of this work, an updated edition of Etruscan Dress was reissued in 2003.

In the 1980s and 1990s, many of Bonfante’s publications continued to explore topics on costume as well as on the status and iconography of women in Etruscan art, particularly of the mother figure in popular votive art. The World of Roman Costume (L. Bonfante and J. Sebesta, eds. [Madison 1994]) is the direct result of a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar directed by Bonfante in 1988 at the American Academy in Rome.  The wide scope of Larissa Bonfante’s work on costume highlights Near Eastern and Greek influence on Etruscan culture, emphasizes the differences between Greek and Etruscan custom, and deftly reveals the undeniable connections with the Roman.

Bonfante has contributed substantially to making the language of the Etruscans accessible to nonspecialist audiences. In 1983, she published The Etruscan Language: An Introduction in collaboration with her father, the late Giuliano Bonfante, a renowned linguistic scholar. It has appeared in an Italian version and a Romanian translation.     

Bonfante is also known for her work on Etruscan mirrors. She serves on the international committee for the Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum (CSE), and is the author of the third U.S. volume of the CSE, which is dedicated to mirrors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Currently, Bonfante is completing The Barbarians of Ancient Europe, a volume of the proceedings of a recent conference. Her work on the Roman triumph, and the translation in collaboration with her daughter, Alexandra, of the plays of Hroswitha of Gandersheim exemplify the breadth of her scholarship. Her many honors include a visiting membership at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and the distinction of being a “Dignitario, Ombra della Sera, Volterra.” Her brilliant teaching career at New York University from 1963 until December 2006 earned her the Great Teacher Award of the Alumni Federation at the university in 1983, and the affection and respect of those who have had the good fortune to study with her.

 Larissa Bonfante has served the AIA as vice president of the New York Society, as a member of the Governing Board, as a lecturer, and as a member of the editorial advisory board of the American Journal of Archaeology. She is certainly a worthy recipient of the Gold Medal. Her career is much more than the sum of her publications and activities. Her infectious passion for all aspects of archaeology has inspired her students, friends, and colleagues for decades. The Archaeological Institute of America is proud to award its Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement to Larissa Bonfante.     

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