National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Claire L. Lyons

Affiliation: J. Paul Getty Museum

Dr. Lyons is Curator of Antiquities with the J. Paul Getty Museum, and holds her degrees from Bowdoin College and Bryn Mawr College (MA and PhD).  Her areas of specialization are the art and archaeology of pre-Roman Italy, Etruria and Magna Graecia, Greek vase painting, the rediscovery and reception of classical antiquity, 19th century photography, and cultural heritage policy.  Awards received by Dr. Lyons include the 2013 AIA Martha and Artemis Joukowsky Distinguished Service Award, and she is the 2018/2019 AIA Cinelli Lecturer.


Etruscan tombs hold the greatest surviving corpus of ancient Mediterranean paintings before the Roman era. Beginning in the early 7th century B.C., subterranean walls became a virtual canvas for depicting banquets, dancing, athletic contests, and mythological monsters. The practice of decorating burial chambers in a vivid polychrome palette endured for nearly five hundred years.

Painting was not limited to the funerary sphere. Artists also produced individual plaques, which were affixed to the walls of temples and civic buildings to form extended narrative friezes. Together with sculpture and roof revetments, murals would have created an urban panorama of striking visual and symbolic power. Although the evidence for architectural panels is fragmentary, recent discoveries have expanded our knowledge of this monumental art considerably.

This lecture surveys the latest excavations and research on the art and science of painting, primarily at the site of Cerveteri in southern Etruria. Style and iconography reveal the role played by emigré artisans from East Greek workshops. Analysis can identify the techniques and materials they used. By combining the archaeological, artistic, and technical data, a more comprehensive appreciation of the Etruscans’ pictorial legacy is emerging.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Francesco Roncalli, “Painted Plaques,” in Nancy T. De Grummond and Lisa C. Pieraccini, Caere (2016) pp. 233–39.

Stephan Steingräber, Abundance of Life. Etruscan Wall Painting, 2006.

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