Italic Art





Tomb paintings were rare and the privilege of an elite few in Etruscan society. Only a section of the society was buried in chamber tombs, and only one or two per cent of these tombs was decorated with paintings. A recurrent theme is that of the banquet, in which couples recline on couches and are attended by servants, dancers, and musicians. This detail comes from the back wall of the Tomb of the Lionesses, which has a pair of lionesses in the gable space, a high dado of dolphins and birds above a dark sea, and a decorative upper border of lotus and palmette. Between the gable and the dado is the main scene of dancers and musicians flanking a great bronze krater - a vessel used for mixing wine and water. Along the side walls, four men recline against cushions. The scenes are divided by slender columns, and banqueting and funeral garlands are painted as if hanging from iron nails.

Circa 520bc; detail of a wall-painting from the Tomb of the Lionesses.
Monterozzi necropolis, Tarquinia, Italy.


References to the house are common in the shape and decoration of tombs belonging to leading Etruscan families. The Tomb of the Reliefs (late fourth century bc) at Cerveteri is a rock-cut underground chamber, with 13 niches for burials and more marked in the floor, and a pair of supporting pillars. It belonged to the aristocratic Matuna family, and is unique in being decorated with realistically modelled and painted stuccos of armour and weapons; household, prestige, and cult objects; and real and fantastic creatures. Actual examples of many of these objects are known from contemporary tombs and cult deposits. On the left pillar (right) are a lituus (ceremonial horn), two staffs, a leather belt, a wine jug, a wine cup with leaf decoration, a baton, an axe, a large knife, coiled rope, a piece of folding furniture (possibly a crib), a bag, a goose, and a beech-marten (probably a household pet). The main burial niche (below) is carved to represent a kline (banquet couch). Underneath are a low footstool and two figures from the underworld:
the three-headed dog, Cerberus and the Scylla, who is half man and half seipent. A frieze of weapons and armour runs along the top of the wall. The pilasters bear two busts (now faceless), possibly of underworld deities, and objects
expressing the elite status of the family: the woman's fan. a staff, and the wine cup and jug used in aristocratic banquets. The wood and ivory chest is of the type used for household papers or linen, and has two folded cloths on top.

Statue of Roman general as heroic nude,
Baths of Constantine, Rome.
Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome.

Rome - from Monarchy to Republic

In order to understand the art of a particular place, it is necessary to look at the artistic output of its earliest period. Rome seems to have begun life as a series of Iron Age villages of huts on the Palatine Hill and elsewhere (ninth century bc). The great Roman Empire had its roots in a society of warrior-farmers who furnished their tombs with personal ornaments and weapons signifying social role and rank. Where the Tiber island formed a convenient river-crossing, an important port on the left bank grew up (beside the later Forum Boarium, or cattle market). Out of the cultural mixing of goods and ideas arriving in Rome over the following centuries, an independent art style gradually emerged. A familiarity with Greek art helped to determine choice, and from early on Rome shared many aspects of artistic production with Etruria and Campania. From the time of Tarquinius Priscus to that of Tarquinius Superbus (616-509bc), Rome was ruled by an Etruscan dynasty. Direct inspiration also came from the colonies of southern Italy and Sicily.
The Roman Republic was created after the expulsion of the Tarquinian dynasty in 509bc. At the outset, sculptors made statues in bronze, such as the cult figure of the goddess Diana in Aricia. The Capitoline Wolf (c.500-480bc) - which has long been interpreted as the she-wolf who suckled Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome, and his twin Remus - is similar in style and quality to the great Etrusean bronzes like the Chimaera of Arezzo, but may also have been produced in Rome. The twins were added in the 15th century ad. Aristocratic laws against excessive public spending and private luxury led to a decline in artistic production. From 366bc, plebeians were eligible for the consulship. The peaceful resolution of plebeian conflict with the patricians (339bc), in fact, consolidated the domination of the wealthy, regardless of family background. The economic influence of the eastern world, as experienced during the period of Alexander the Great (334-323BC), helped to expand the internal economy, and in Rome, as elsewhere, art was commissioned as a sign of social status. Classicizing (323-301bc) and Hellenistic Baroque styles characterized the revival of architectural decoration and votive terracottas. Trade and war brought fine artworks to Rome. The conquest of Syracuse (212bc), when the Romans removed a number of pictures, statues, and decorative objects from the city, brought about another unforeseeable and definitive change in attitude towards Greek art forms. Imports included masterpieces of art from various periods. These were displayed in temples, porticos, and private homes, regardless of their original provenance and purpose. They were all brought together at the whim of the conquerors, as booty, expression of aristocratic taste, and symbols of public benefaction. Distancing works from their source in this way meant that their original meanings could be manipulated at will and the chance to see them in a new setting stimulated a fresh approach to figurative art. From the subject matter and styles of another people came a new form of artistic production. The images served to venerate both the traditional gods and those taken over from the Mediterranean pantheon. They portrayed private individuals as votives in sanctuaries, and celebrated triumphant generals, to describe their exploits and to commemorate the dead.


At a time when a classicizing style was current in Greece (323-301 bc) and Greek influence was uppermost, the character of Etruscan art contrasted ever more strongly in its content. The limestone sarcophagus of the Amazons at Tarquinia (C.320.BC) has a finely painted scene of Greeks fighting Amazons. The grimaces on the warriors' faces and the shape of some of the helmets recall the south Italian pottery by the Darius Painter. Like the murals of the Greek porticos, the scenes are framed by pilasters and architraves, but the architectural design is local. The Amazons' victory over the Greeks is an Etruscan theme, symbolizing hostility towards the Greek colonies in southern Italy and Sicily. Non-Greek features are the nudity of one of the combatants, the red footwear, and the decorative collars on some of the horses. Etruscan autonomy is also evident in the Amazonomachia painted on the sarcophagus of the Priest, where the figure of a Lasa, an Etruscan death companion, appears with the fallen warriors.

Detail from the sarcophagus of the Amazons,
painted limestone, Tarquinis.
Museo Archeologico, Florence.



Temple architecture in Italy developed differently from that in the Greek world. The Roman architect Vitruvius, writing at the time of Augustus, described what he called the Tuscan temple type, and many of the features characteristic of Etruscan temples also occur in their Roman counterparts. There is a high podium (platform); the columns could be widely spaced because the architraves were of wood; and the pronaos (front porch) was as deep as the cella (enclosed chamber). In the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter, the division into three cellae repeated the Etruscan tradition, as did the sculptures decorating the roof, which tradition holds were executed by Vulca, a sculptor of the Etruscan city of Veii. Begun by the kings, it was finished under the new Republic (est. 509bc). In 494BC, artists from Sicily came to work on the Temple of Ceres Liber and Libéra. The Temple of Portunus shows how the Greek Ionic peripteros (with columns on all sides) was adapted to Roman taste, emphasizing the front: the columns of the pronaos continue along the cella walls in the form of pseudoperipteros (half-columns) attached to the wall.

Temple of Portunus,
first century bc.

The Capitoline Wolf,
Museo del Palazzo del Conservatori, Rome.



Marine fresco with cupids.
Archaeological Museum, Rhodes.

Macedonia had a significant influence on Roman wall-painting. One house at Amphipolis has frescos of both the First and Second Pompeiian styles of wall-painting. The pavilion of the tomb of Lyson and Callicles at Lefkadia is a masterpiece of bold architectural illusion. The Macedonian painter Heraclides, who moved to Athens after the defeat of King Perseus at Pydna (168bc), was one of many artists to introduce Hellenistic traditions to the Romanized Western world. Iaias of Cysicum. who migrated from Pergamum when the kingdom collapsed in 133bc, became a successful portrait painter. A marine fresco with cupids survives in a house on Rhodes. The figures, against a pale background, were first traced in grey outline, and their forms then modelled with shadows and touches of light. This technique was also used in the Landscapes of the Odyssey fresco series in a house on the Esquiline in Rome, but with reddish-brown outlines. The frescos were inspired by a cycle of Rhodian panels, from a period when the island's sculptors were reproducing bronze groups showing the adventures of Ulysses for Roman commissions. In the painting, the hero and his crew appear as tiny figures acting on the world's stage. In a metaphor of life, the Odyssey is enacted amid perilous seas, towering rocks, and shadows from the afterlife.

Landscapes of the Odyssey:
Ulysses in the Land of the Lestrygonians,
fresco, 50-40BC,
the Esquiline, Rome.
Biblioteca Vaticana, Vatican City.


The Tivoli General,
marble, by a Greek sculptor, Sanctuary of Hercules Victor at Tivoli.
Museo Nazlonale Romano, Rome.


The Roman generals who led the armies of conquest in the eastern Mediterranean from 200 to 60bc were quick to adopt the Greek art of sculpture, especially individual portraiture. Many commissioned statues of themselves in bronze and marble from the best Greek sculptors of the day, shipping the results back to be displayed in Rome. In style and technique, the Roman portraits closely resemble those of contemporary Hellenistic kings, with powerfully modelled features of heroic cast, but they do not wear royal diadems and often sport the short beard of the campaigning soldier. In time, by force or of their own accord, many Greek artists moved to Rome, importing the marble from their homelands. Throughout the later Roman Empire, Greece and the Greek East continued to supply much of the marble and most of the craftsmen employed in the West.
In about 50bc. major new marble quarries were opened in Italy (Carrara), which greatly increased supplies. However, the last two centuries bc saw many statues made from several smaller blocks joined together, in lieu of a single block sufficiently large to carve a work in one piece. For example, the statue of a general found at Tivoli, dating from about 70bc, was constructed from at least seven separate pieces. His face is highly individual in the Roman manner, while the body is an ideal type taken from the earlier Greek repertoire, semi-draped in a military cloak to suit Roman tastes.


Roman general with beard, bronze, by an Asiatic artist, from the Punta del Serrone off the Brindisi coast. Museo Archeologico Provinciale F. Ribezzo, Brindisi.

Roman general, marble, Apollonla. Archaeological Museum, Tirane, Albania.

Roman general, marble, Rome. Glyptothek, Munich.


The great Greek-Italian sculptor Pasiteles, born in southern Italy, grew up during the civil wars - an age when military commanders were noted for their revolutionary ideas. Cosmopolitan and adventurous, he wrote a five-volume book on "the famous works throughout the world", which in terms of history and criticism was as significant a landmark for its age as Winckelmann's History of Ancient Art was for the 18th century. For the first time, the Greek works of art in Rome were listed with locations and descriptions. This was an immense museum, which contemporary and later artists could use freely for reference and imitation, expanding on the past in their choice of models, the novel ways in which they were combined, and technical virtuosity. It was the theoretical equivalent of the Roman schoiar Varro:s approach to language. Attic purity was the sign of an excessively bigoted code of ethics, whereas Asiatic licence reflected moral laxity. The path indicated by Pasiteles
exemplified the balanced outlook of the Roman citizen. Varro adopted the same principle in the encyclopaedic classification that would later serve to revive learning and custom under Caesar and Augustus. Pasiteles became a Roman citizen in 89bc and made a significant contribution to a nation just emerging from civil war. The example he gave the city was not derived from Athens or the East but from Italy's Greek colonies, which for centuries had nourished Roman culture A technical innovator, he perpetuated the figurative art of the Greek world in his sculpture and metalwork, and founded a school that in its copies of classical masterpieces formed a new chapter in the history of Italian and European art.


The Late Republic

After the second Macedonian war (200-197isc), more importance was given to the notion of otium (private leisure) as opposed to negotium (public service). Greater interest was shown in beautiful objects for everyday use and in wall paintings for home decoration, exemplifying the taste for refinement and luxury, against which Cato the Censor (Marcus Porcius Cato. died 149bc) had raged in vain. During the period of the Late Republic (100-31bc), complete Roman control of the Mediterranean stimulated a flourishing trade in luxury merchandise. Whether at work in their lands of origin or as immigrants to the city of Rome, artists from Attica, Asia, and Rhodes turned out faithful marble copies of the famous bronzes of classical (Neo-Attic) or Baroque (Neo-Hellenistic) art. To satisfy the growing fashion for furnishings, they produced statues in smaller forms such as berms (bust-bearing pillars with four sides) and a wide range of decorative objects, which included large stone vases. Private collections often reflected the interests of the owner and among the prized contents of villas were busts of philosophers, orators, military leaders, and athletes.
The galleries of famous Greeks were counterparts to the family portraits found in traditional Roman houses. Pride of place went to the maiores, the ancestors who represented the highest moral virtues and guaranteed continuity, meriting emulation and personifying (like the philosophers) the wisdom of the past. Ancestors explained names and gave meaning to the cults and activities of the family.
The family tree represented an archive of likenesses whereby the legitimacy of descendants could be confirmed. In the symbolic sense, the resemblance to Alexander the Great claimed by Pompey (106-48bc) could be backed up by a precedent, in this case the longstanding exercise of military powers. In due course, waxen masks based on the facial features of ancestors were carried in processions through the streets and into the Forum.

The Greek historian Polybius wrote:
"When an illustrious member of the family dies, he is carried to his funeral by men who resemble him in stature and general appearance. If the deceased was a consul or praetor, they wear a toga edged with purple, if he was a censor, they wear an all-purple toga, and if he was a triumphator, they wear a gold-bordered toga. They proceed in chariots, preceded by fasciae, axes, and whatever other insignia may be appropriate for magistrates, according to the status that the deceased enjoyed in life among his fellow citizens."




Esquiline Venus, Lamiani, Rome.
Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome.


In the first century bc, the aristocracy in Rome began to develop into luxury garden-villas what had previously been horti (vegetable plots) in the hills around the city. Dining pavilions, bath houses, and private theatres of exotic architectural design, richly ornamented with paintings, mosaics, and coloured stones, were set in landscaped parks of colonnaded garden-courts, artificial lakes, and fountains. The buildings were filled with niches and other specially made settings for bronze and marble statuary of great variety. The collections included older Greek works, antiques of the fifth to third centuries bc brought to Rome as war booty or later purchased on the Mediterranean art market. Some complemented the genuine antiques with close replicas made by famous Greek artists. Most, however, were new productions by contemporary sculptors adapting Late Hellenistic traditions to an increasingly discriminating Roman clientele. This statue of a maidenly Venus, goddess of fertility, beauty, and love, was found on one of the horti on the Esquiline hill, where it may have adorned a bath house. The goddess is shown in preparation for a bath. Beside her is a tall vase standing on a cosmetic box, over which she has draped a towel. The cobra snake entwined around the vase and the roses on the box are attributes associated with the Egyptian goddess Isis, whom Romans identified with Venus. Carved in translucent white marble from the Greek island of Paros, the brilliance of which is emphasized by the high polish on the flesh, the statue echoes figures of Venus' Greek equivalent Aphrodite. However, the sweet expression, small breasts, and slightly boyish figure are ver)' much to Roman taste.



Portrait head of Pompey, Licinii Tomb, Rome.
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.


After the Social War (89bc). current political events in Rome were reflected in its portraiture. Replicas exist of the statue that the general and statesman Pompey installed at the height of his power in the room where the Senate met. The sculptor carefully modelled his forelocks in a manner reminiscent of the styles of Alexander and Aemilius Paulus, and reproduced his caring expression. The work reflected Pompey's dual nature — aristocrat and demagogue. The plump cheeks, soft lines around the mouth, short-sighted eyes, and raised eyebrows that wrinkle the forehead: all are captured in an expression that suggests both the reserve of the high-ranking diplomat and the charisma of a man who was the idol of the people. (Compared with the harsh Sulla, in whose service he had begun his career, the affable young Pompey had completely won over the ordinary citizens.) This image of Pompey was the enigmatic witness to tiie killing of his great rival, Julius Caesar (44bc). The dictator was stabbed to death at the foot of the statue, which had been re-erected after the inconstant populace had pulled it down. Pompey himself had been stabbed to death in 4Sbc, having fled to Egypt after being defeated in battle bv Pharsalus.




This mosaic is from the floor of the apse of a public hall, facing the forum of Praeneste (now Palestrina), and pre-dates the setting-up of the colony by Sulla in 82bc. The structure, with its wall decorations, was built at the same time as the Temple of Fortune during a period of prosperity for Praeneste brought about by the opening of the free port of Delos (166bc) and the increased presence of Italian merchants in the Aegean. The mosaic was laid with a slight depression in the centre and may have been covered with a thin veil of water, which would have brought out the vivid colouring. It is a unique example of such detailed representation: the scene includes a wide range of rocks and minerals, plants and animals, and depicts activities from the daily life of the people who lived on the plain and in the marshes of Alexandria.

Floor mosaic;
Museo Nazionale Archeologico, Palestrina, Italy.

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