Etruscan, Terracotta, Italy, Italian





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Mediterranean region, Karelians and Volga Finns, Tuscans

Etruscan Man

Etruscan art was produced by the Etruscan civilization in central Italy between the 9th and 2nd centuries BC. From around 600 BC it was heavily influenced by Greek art, which was imported by the Etruscans, but always retained distinct characteristics.


Particularly strong in this tradition were figurative sculpture in terracotta (especially life-size on sarcophagi or temples), wall-painting and metalworking especially in bronze. Jewellery and engraved gems of high quality were produced.


Etruscan sculpture in cast bronze was famous and widely exported, but relatively few large examples have survived (the material was too valuable, and recycled later).


In contrast to terracotta and bronze, there was relatively little Etruscan sculpture in stone, despite the Etruscans controlling fine sources of marble, including Carrara marble, which seems not to have been exploited until the Romans.

The great majority of survivals come from tombs, which were typically crammed with sarcophagi and grave goods, and terracotta fragments of architectural sculpture, mostly around temples. Tombs have produced all the fresco wall-paintings, which show scenes of feasting and some narrative mythological subjects. Bucchero wares in black were the early and native styles of fine Etruscan pottery. There was also a tradition of elaborate Etruscan vase painting, which sprung from its Greek equivalent; the Etruscans were the main export market for Greek vases. Etruscan temples were heavily decorated with colourfully painted terracotta antefixes and other fittings, which survive in large numbers where the wooden superstructure has vanished. Etruscan art was strongly connected to religion; the afterlife was of major importance in Etruscan art.



Etruscan Man

The Etruscan paintings that have survived are almost all wall frescoes from tombs, mainly located in Tarquinia, and dating from roughly 670 BC to 200 BC, with the peak of production between about 520 and 440 BC.


The Greeks very rarely painted their tombs in the equivalent period, with rare exceptions such as the Tomb of the Diver in Paestum and southern Italy, and the Macedonian royal tombs at Vergina.


The whole tradition of Greek painting on walls and panels, arguably the form of art that Greek contemporaries considered their greatest, is almost entirely lost, giving the Etruscan tradition, which undoubtedly drew much from Greek examples, an added importance, even if it does not approach the quality and sophistication of the best Greek masters.


It is clear from literary sources that temples, houses and other buildings also had wall-paintings, but these have all been lost, like their Greek equivalents. The Etruscan tombs, which housed the remains of whole lineages, were apparently sites for recurrent family rituals, and the subjects of paintings probably have a more religious character than might at first appear. A few detachable painted terracotta panels have been found in tombs, up to about a metre tall, and fragments in city centres. The frescoes are created by applying paint on top of fresh plaster, so that when the plaster dries the painting becomes part of the plaster, and consequently an integral part of the wall. Colors were created from ground up minerals of different colors and were then mixed to the paint. Fine brushes were made of animal hair.


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From the mid 4th century BC chiaroscuro modelling began to be used to portray depth and volume. Sometimes scenes of everyday life are portrayed, but more often traditional mythological scenes. The depiction of human anatomy never approaches Greek levels. The concept of proportion does not appear in any surviving frescoes and we frequently find portrayals of animals or men out of proportion. One of the best-known Etruscan frescoes is that of the Tomb of the Lioness at Tarquinia.


Terracotta Relief

Etruscan vase painting was produced from the 7th through the 4th centuries BC, and is a major element in Etruscan art. It was strongly influenced by Greek vase painting, followed the main trends in style, especially those of Athens, over the period, but lagging behind by some decades.


The Etruscans used the same techniques, and largely the same shapes. Both the black-figure vase painting and the later red-figure vase painting techniques were used. The subjects were also very often drawn from Greek mythology in later periods.


Besides being producers in their own right, the Etruscans were the main export market for Greek pottery outside Greece, and some Greek painters probably moved to Etruria, where richly decorated vases were a standard element of grave inventories.


It has been suggested that many or most elaborately painted vases were specifically bought to be used in burials, as a substitute, cheaper and less likely to attract robbers, for the vessels in silver and bronze that the elite would have used in life.
Water jar with Herakles and the Hydra, c. 525 BCE. A few large terracotta pinakes or plaques, much larger than are typical in Greek art, have been found in tombs, some forming a series that creates in effect a portable wall-painting. The "Boccanera" tomb at the Banditaccia necropolis at Cerveteri contained five panels almost a metre high set round the wall, which are now in the British Museum. Three of them form a single scene, apparently the Judgement of Paris, while the other two flanked the inside of the entrance, with sphinxes acting as tomb guardians. They date to about 560 BC. Fragments of similar panels have been found in city centre sites, presumably from temples, elite houses and other buildings, where the subjects include scenes of everyday life.

Etruscan funerary relief

Abstract In this study, we present the first extensive genetic data on a European population of the pre-classical period, the Etruscans.


The origins of the Etruscans, a non-Indo-European population of pre-classical (pre-Roman) Italy, are unclear.


There is broad agreement that their culture developed locally, but the Etruscans’ evolutionary and emigrational relationships are largely unknown.


In this study, we determined mitochondrial DNA sequences in multiple clones derived from bone samples of 80 Etruscans who lived between the 7th and the 3rd centuries B.C. No significant heterogeneity emerged among archaeological sites or time periods, suggesting that different Etruscan communities shared not only a culture but also a mitochondrial gene pool.


Genetic distances and sequence comparisons show closer evolutionary relationships with the eastern Mediterranean shores for the Etruscans than for modern Italian populations. Top left: Etruscan Man, 500 to 400 B.C.E. Top right: Etruscan Vase, 325 B.C.E. Bottom: Etruscan Terracotta Relief, 600 B.C.E.


Etruscan Vase, Tuscany, Greek, Roman


(The ancient inhabitants of the eastern Mediterranean shores were Canaanites, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Egyptians, all of whom were Black people).


Admixture coefficients were inferred from differences in haplotype frequencies, considering the Etruscans and the modern Italian populations as hybrids among up to four potential parents.

The mitochondrial features of the parental populations were approximated assuming that the best available estimate of allele frequencies in past (and unknown) populations is found in their modern counterparts, as is customary in admixture studies.


We chose the Basques as representative of Western Europe, the Turks as representative of the eastern Mediterranean region, Karelians and Volga Finns as representative of north-eastern Europe, and Egyptians and Algerians as representative of North Africa.


Various tests show that the Tuscans (see next study below) are the Etruscans’ closest neighbours in terms of genetic distances.


Despite that broad similarity, however, Etruscans and Tuscans share only two haplotypes.


This finding is difficult to interpret in the absence of data on any other European population of the pre-classical period.


One possible interpretation is that all or most European populations of that time period were as different from their modern counterparts as the Etruscans appear to be.


This would imply extensive gene flow or a high rate of extinction of mitochondrial haplotypes, both processes causing a drastic change of the mitochondrial pool in the last 2,500 years.


More importantly, a result of that kind would force us to reconsider the universally held assumption that patterns in the DNA of modern individuals reflect the evolutionary processes affecting their prehistoric ancestors.


Alternatively, should other ancient populations prove similar to comparable modern ones; one should conclude that the Etruscans’ mitochondrial sequences underwent extinction at a particularly high rate and look for an explanation for that.


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Until more ancient DNA data become available, both scenarios will remain possible, although we favour the latter.


Etruscans show closer relationships both to North Africans and to Turks than any contemporary population.


In particular, the Turkish component in their gene pool appears three times as large as in the other populations.


Copyright © 2004 by The American Society of Human Genetics. All rights reserved. Cristiano Vernesi,1 David Caramelli,2 Isabelle Dupanloup,1,* Giorgio Bertorelle,1 Martina Lari,2 Enrico Cappellini,2 Jacopo Moggi-Cecchi,2 Brunetto Chiarelli,2 Loredana Castrì,3 Antonella Casoli,4 Francesco Mallegni,5 Carles Lalueza-Fox,6 and Guido Barbujani1




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