1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Etruscan Architecture

(Part 63)

Etruscan Architecture

Little of the history of Etruria is as yet known, for accounts of Roman historians are not to be relief on, and the Etruscan language is as yet unread. Our acquaintance with its architecture, too, is very meagre, for the comparatively few remains show us simply the forms used by the Etruscans in their tombs; and even these have been as yet imperfectly explored, owing to the nature of the climate, and the desolation of those parts of the country in which they are chiefly found. Little was, in fact, known of them at all until the careful descriptions of Sig. Canina and Mr Dennis appeared, from whose works the principal ascertained facts are derived. The sites of the Etruscan towns are nearly all on or near a line, curving slightly from the sea, extending from Fiesole, near Florence, through Arretium, Cortona, Volsinii, and Falerii, to Rome. The only sites of much importance near the sea were Cossa and Tarquinii. The towns were generally planted on the tops of high hills, as if for the purpose of defence. Much of the town-walling remains in various places, as at Fiesole, Cortona, Cossa, and Voltera, and furnishes grand examples both of the polygonal and of the squared masonry, which has been described as belonging to the early period of Greek architecture.

The tombs were of two classes, the first being nearly of the same external form as that described at Tantalais, viz., with a massive stereobate, circular in plan, having one or more chambers in the centre of it, and above it a tumulus of earth. Of these, hundreds of specimens of various sizes remain. At Volci there was one 240 feet in diameter. The grandest of all is, perhaps, that at Cervetri, drawn by Canina, and known as the Regulini Galeassi. The chambers here, and in other instances, are ceiled with oversailing courses of stone, cut into an arched form as at Mycenae. A completely voussoired arch exists over a tomb chamber, known as the Grotto of Pythagoras, at Cortona, but the date of this is very doubtful. In these tombs have been found some of the beautiful specimens of jewellery which adorn the museums of Europe. The mouldings used are very few and simple, but of a section which is quite peculiar to Etruria. They occur in two places only, viz., as a base, and as a capping to the basement. In none of the tombs of the kind above described are found any of the paintings which form so characteristic a feature in the second and better known class of tombs, viz., those cut in the face of the rock in the vicinity of most of the Etruscan towns. The apparent entrances to these tombs are by doorways of a peculiar form, and often placed very high up the rock. But these are flies, and merely carved in it, the real entrance being often 40 to 50 feet below. This leads into one or more chambers, which are mostly square, but in some few instances are circular, as at Chaise, where there is one 25 feet in diameter, supported by a pillar in the centre. Whatever their shape, they are cut of the solid rock; and, apparently, bore some resemblance to the house which the occupant of the tomb had inhabited during life. None of the chambers are domed or vaulted, all the ceilings being cut in the shape of flat beams or sloping rafters supported by pillars, - another instance of the construction of built edifices being copied in rock-cut caves. One of these, at Cervetri, is given in D’Agincourt’s work. There is another chamber at Tarquinii, 50 feet square, supported by four pillars, each 6 to 7 feet square.

The manner in which the chambers were fitted up depended on the mode of burial. Cremation was sometimes used, and then, as at Veii, Sutri, and Toscanella, we find niches for urns. But usually there was a bench cut in the rock round the sides of the chambers, and on them were ranged the sarcophagi, of which specimens are so well known in most of the museums of Europe. In some instances, which seem of a late date, the bodies were placed in recesses.

The paintings which decorated the chambers were very peculiar, being of the same character, and with figures of divinities, &c., of the same well-known attenuated forms as are found in the earlier vases. The colouring is as peculiar as the drawing, e.g., at Veii there is horse depicted with a red neck, yellow mane and tail, one leg yellow spotted with red, and the rest of the horse black. At Tarquinii is another horse with blue mane and hoofs, white tail, and all the rest red. All these paintings were executed, much as were those of the Greeks and Egyptians, on a very thin coating of fine stucco over the rock. In the later tombs domestic scenes appear to have taken the place of the allegorical ones formerly used.

One of the best examples, though of very late (Roman) date, is a tomb at Cervetri. The chamber was supported on two pillars. In each side of it were recesses, 2 feet in height, each having a bed, with cushion for the head, tassels, &c., all sculptured and painted. The sides and pillars were decorated with painting and sculpture, representing the helmets, shields, swords, and other accoutrements of the officer whose tomb it was. But there were also depicted in the same way the personal ornaments of his wife, her mirrors, jewellery, &c. Her slippers are marked on the floor, and by the side of the recess near, is carved her husband’s walking stick. Even the kitchen utensils appear in effigy, so as to give the whole fittings of the house of a Roman officer.

Another class of funeral monument is described to us by some writers, the most noted example being that of the great King Porsena, but the descriptions are too vague to allow of even this being restored with certainty. It is said to have had three ranges of pillars, the lowest one 150 feet high and 75 feet square, standing on a basement 300 feet square. There were five sets of these pillars, viz., one at each angle and one in the centre, and they are said to have been enriched with bronze ornamental work at the top of each division. This class of tomb was probably somewhat like one of late date, near Rome, which has been known by various names (the tomb of the Horii and Curate, of Arenas, of Pommy, &c.), and if there were two ranges of pillars above, all tied in with metal rings at the point of junction, it would agree tolerably well with what we read of Persona's tomb.

Of Etruscan temples no remains exist, and the accounts of them are so conflicting that any restoration of them must be very uncertain.

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