Etruscan Sculpture

Etruscan Sculpture

Etruscan Sculpture

Etruscan Sculpture

Excerpt

The Romans during the early days of the Empire already considered themselves as obsolescent, the heirs of a great artistic past, which they could only imitate as epigones and weaklings. A hundred years after Christ the younger Pliny wrote: "Though I acknowledge myself an admirer of the ancients, yet I am very far from despising, as some affect to do, the genius of the moderns: nor can I suppose that nature in these later ages is so worn out as to be incapable of any valuable production."

The ancients of whom Pliny wrote meant to him not only Hellenic art and literature, which the Romans had in his time been imitating for three hundred years; he referred, likewise, to the earlier civilization of his own land, the Etruscan. In the early days of the Roman Empire, Etruscan literature, which to-day is completely lost, was still alive. Etruscan books were in use, especially works upon mensuration, canalization, and other engineering topics in which the Etruscans had excelled. But even as late as the time of Emperor Julian, the haruspices drew their wisdom from Etruscan sources. Etruscan still persisted as a language of the priests, was used as a "dead" language in Roman temples, much as in later days Latin and Hebrew survived in the liturgies. According to Livy (VII, 2) even Roman comedy derived from the Etruscans. Etruscan actors, together with Etruscan dancers and flute-players, were brought to Rome during an epidemic of plague in the hope of appeasing the gods. Roman connoisseurs in the days of Pliny were especially fond of collecting Etruscan works of art, paying high prices for Etruscan vases and Etruscan bronzes. When the Romans conquered Veii (396. B.C.), the wooden statue of Uni (Juno), the goddess of the town, was brought to the Aventine; from the conquered Volsinii (265 B.C.) bronze statues to the number of about 2,000 were taken to Rome; Augustus commissioned the renewal of an Etruscan statue of Apollo, and Caligula wanted to have a fresco removed to his palace from the temple of Lanuvium, but it was found impossible to separate this fresco from the fragile stucco ground. In the bronze-foundries of Praeneste, not many miles from Rome, people had worked according to Etruscan models for five hundred years, reckoned backward from the epoch of Trajan, Etruscan artificers being doubtless still employed to make containers for toilet utensils and cosmetics, beautifully engraved bronze mirrors and brooches. In the Forum and on the Palatine there were numerous Etruscan statues beside Corinthian ones. As late as Cicero's days the Roman aristocracy sent their boys to Tarquinii--regarded as a sacred city, as Delphi was by the Greeks, and Rome during the Christian Middle Ages--to learn, there, the Etruscan tongue and Etruscan lore. (Cicero, De divinatione, I, 92.)

Among noted Romans the man who went farthest in his interest for the Etruscans was Emperor Claudius, who not only revived Etruscan soothsaying (about 50 A.D.), but also compiled a history of the Etruscans, entitled Etruscan Studies, in twenty volumes. This, written in Greek, was read aloud on specified days in an auditorium at the Alexandrian Museum. (Tacitus, Annals, XI, 15; also Suetonius, Claudius, 42.) In the theatre of Caere was found a seated statue . . .

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