Abstract: Etruscan Faces: From the Symbolic to the Realistic

The art of portraiture represents one of the Etruscans’ most original and important contributions to western culture.  Beginning in the seventh century BCE, representations of both anonymous and named men and women were crafted in a variety of materials and styles and placed in either funerary or religious contexts.  Sculptors, in particular, created expressive – and even, at times, eclectic – memorial images, concentrating especially on the heads and chests of their subjects rather than on their bodies as a whole.

In this lecture, I focus on how these Etruscan faces provide insights into a culture from which no literary records survive that detail how the Etruscans viewed their world and the people who lived in it. We must reconstruct Etruscan beliefs and values through careful analysis of archaeological and artistic data, surviving inscriptions, and the few references preserved in the writings of a number of Greek and Roman authors. The Etruscan faces that are at the center of this presentation are visual narratives that straddle the line between the ideological and the personal.  Artists not only succeeded in emphasizing social identities but also physical differences, including age, and, in some cases, states of health.  In this way, a genre of art not previously manifested in the ancient Mediterranean was born.     


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Carpino, A. 2013.  “Portraiture.”  In The Etruscan World, edited by J. M. Turfa, 1007-1016. London.

Prag, A. J. N. W. 2002. “Seianti and Etruscan Portraiture.” In Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa: The story of an Etruscan Noblewoman, edited by J. Swaddling and J. Prag, 59-66. London:  The British Museum.

Small, J. P.  2008. "Looking at Etruscan Art in the Meadows Museum.” In From the Temple and the Tomb:  Etruscan Treasures from Tuscany, edited by P.W. Warden, 40-65.   Dallas:  Meadows Museum, SMU.

Turfa, J.M. 2016.  “The Obesus Etruscus: Can the Trope be True?” In A Companion to the Etruscans, edited by S. Bell and A. Carpino, 321-336.  Malden, MA and Oxford.

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