- The two best sources of Etruscan painting are on pottery and on the walls of tombs. The stylistic influence on the pottery is reflected in their nomenclature and their chronology: Etrusco-geometric, Etrusco-Corinthian, Etruscan black figure, and Etruscan red figure. Etruscan wall painting is essentially rock, not fresco, painting. The wall was smoothed for all paintings. Initially, in the Orientalizing period, a limited range of pigments (red, yellow, brown, and black) was applied directly to the rock. From about 550 BC, the surface was dressed with a mixture of clay and ground parent rock, forming a thin (one to three millimeter) surface. At this time, further pigments of white, pale blue, and green were added to the repertoire. All the pigments were natural earths, except for the blue, which was a compound of copper, calcium, and silica. In the fourth century BC, a more elaborate prepared ground of up to six millimeters was introduced.Some 281 painted tombs are known, although only 178 have relatively elaborate painting. Eighty percent of all painted tombs are in Tarquinia, although they only feature in a small percentage of the tombs in the city, whereas this fashion was followed much less frequently in other cities, with 14 at Chiusi, 11 at Caere, three at Orvieto, two at each of Veii, Vulci, and Populonia, and one at each of Blera, Bomarzo, Cosa, Grotte Santo Stefano, Magliano in Toscana, Orte, San Giuliano, and Tuscania. Only three of these sites are in northern Etruria and only in two, Tarquinia and Chiusi, did the era of tomb painting cover a reasonable period of time.Etruscan tomb painting has been arranged into four phases that reflect the breaks in painting tradition: Orientalizing (675 to 575 BC), Archaic (550 to 480 BC), Classical (fifth to fourth century BC), and Hellenistic (late fourth century onward). In the Orientalizing phase, there are only 12 (6.6 percent) of the more elaborate paintings, from Caere (four), Veii (two), Chiusi (two), Cosa (one), Magliano Toscano (one), San Giuliano (one), and Tarquinia (one). The subject matter comprises small-scale friezes with a predominance of Orientalizing motifs (e.g., lions, panthers, etc). The Archaic period has the highest concentration of tombs, principally at Tarquinia, but also at Chiusi. Nevetheless, only an estimated 2 percent of the tombs of the period at Tarquinia were painted. The theme of the house of the dead was extensively developed. Important themes are the symposium and athletics (broadly conceived). In the Classical (a term loosely employed for painting—interim has been suggested as a better word) period, the symposium scene predominates.In the final Hellenistic period, there is a major break near 375 BC, placing some paintings in the Classical period within the Hellenistic grouping. Painting became even more the prerogative of an exclusive elite descent group of a small number of cities: Tarquinia (34), Caere (five), Orvieto (three), Vulci (two), Chiusi (two), Populonia (two), Bomarzo (one), and Tuscania (one). The themes now concentrated more explicitly on death, emphasizing the rite of separation of the deceased individual. The most famous depiction of the otherworld is in the Tombo dell’Orco II, peopled by terrifying individuals of the other world. Male and female death demons become common features. Weapon friezes (also seen in the Tomb of the Reliefs at Caere) are another common feature. Identified individuals surface prominently from the descent group, indicated both by realistic depiction and naming inscriptions. The Hellenistic tomb thus stresses two features of identity: the individual and the descent group (gens). A recent view of tomb paintings is that they may in many cases represent temporary, tent-like structures erected at the entrance to the tomb, strongly tied into the performance of funerary ritual.
Historical Dictionary of the Etruscans. Simon K. F. Stoddart.
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