Etruscan and Roman Art

Topic 5: Etruscan and Roman Art

  • The Etruscans occupied an area of central Italy known as Etruria. Very little of their writing has survived, so we know far less about their culture than that of the Romans or Greeks. What knowledge we have of the Etruscans comes largely from modern archaeological finds. The Etruscans flourished between approximately 650 and 500 B.C.E.

  • Etruscan art shows strong similarities to that of Archaic Greece and other nearby Mediterranean cultures. It differs in that terra cotta (baked clay) was often preferred to marble, in that there is more emphasis on ornament and display and less on harmony and refinement, and in the relative importance of tombs and funerary monuments. Etruscan sarcophagi and tomb paintings are known for their seemingly happy images of people enjoying themselves just as they did in life.

  • The Romans replaced the Etruscans as the dominant culture in Italy around 500 B.C.E. Though the early Romans had kings, they evolved a republican model of government that, like the Greek model of democracy, is still influential. Roman art of the early period shares many characteristics with Etruscan (and Greek) art of the same period.

  • Roman sculptural portraits of the republican period emphasized realistic, individualistic, and sometimes unflattering details in comparison to the idealized art of Greece. But the art of Greece remained a dominant influence, and much Roman art and architecture directly copied it.

  • Augustus became the first Caesar, or emperor of Rome in 27 B.C.E. The role of emperor was religious as well as political; like the god-kings of the ancient Near East and pharaonic Egypt, he was considered a deity in his own right. The emperor was therefore the frequent subject of art, though in a more naturalistic style than that of earlier theocracies, reflecting the influence of Greece and of republican traditions.

  • The art of imperial Rome continued to be heavily influenced by that of Hellenistic Greece. It increasingly emphasized luxury and display. The villas of Pompeii, a resort town buried in volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E., provide remarkable insight into Roman domestic architecture and decoration, especially wall paintings.

  • Rome's contributions to architecture are chiefly in the area of technological innovation. The circular design of the Coliseum represents a breakthrough in crowd control and is still in use today. A temple in the heart of Rome, the Pantheon, features a perfectly hemispherical dome made from a new medium, concrete. Public baths, marketplaces, and aqueducts also employed innovative new designs.

Related Links:
Etruscan and Roman Art Quiz
Global Prehistory, 30,000 to 500 BCE
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes