Painting in Italy: From the Origins to the Thirteenth Century

Painting in Italy: From the Origins to the Thirteenth Century

Painting in Italy: From the Origins to the Thirteenth Century

Painting in Italy: From the Origins to the Thirteenth Century

Excerpt

Etruscan painting arose in the heart of Italy without any known antecedents that might have foreshadowed or predetermined it.

Prehistoric times left no more behind them than a few dim traces of the human figure on stones painted in red ochre and gaily decorative patterns (from which, however, the human figure is conspicuous by its absence) on the elegant colored pottery of the middle and late Neolithic Age. The late paleolithic figures of men and animals discovered in caves at Levanzo and on Monte Pellegrino are simply incised on the walls, without any trace of the drawing and coloring found in French and Spanish caves around the Pyrenees. Nor do we find any remains of coloring in the tombs and paraphernalia of the Italic peoples who preceded the Etruscans in Emilia, Tuscany and Latium. So that the first representations in color of the human figure on Italic soil appear on Sub-Mycenaean, Geometric, Ionic, Corinthian and Laconian painted pottery, imported into the peninsula by the Greek coastal settlements in Sicily, Magna Graecia, Etruria, Latium and along the Adriatic.

But for this early painting to evolve from the coloring of pottery and objects of wood, marble and ivory to large-scale mural painting, temples, houses and tombs had to be built containing broad wall surfaces, such as have been excavated in Greek and Roman temples, houses and palaces. But no Etruscan dwelling houses have come down to us; of Etruscan temples we have only the scantiest vestiges, while their cities have either been buried over or transformed out of recognition. In their underground tombs, however, an extensive series of wall paintings has survived practically intact.

Pre-Etruscan burial customs are represented by the shaft graves of the Villanova period; each grave as a rule contained but one ossuary, together with small objects and utensils. The Etruscans, however, left a great and lasting expression of their religious beliefs in their tombs, which consist of underground chambers either hewn out of the rock or forming great earth-covered mounds rising well above ground level. These tombs are a combination of architecture, sculpture, relief work and painting. Sometimes they consist of one or two isolated tumuli on a hilltop or a promontory, sometimes of great necropoli extending as far as the eye can see, as at Caere and Tarquinii. Always the power and importance of an Etruscan city is to be measured more by the splendor and extent of its tombs than by the remains of its buildings, walls and fortifications.

The Greeks as a rule honored the memory of the dead with stelae carved in bas-relief and painted, and the life beyond the grave was alluded to in a scene of leave-taking, full of . . .

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