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Mural Decoration
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Etruscan Painting.

Etruscan Painting.—The rock-cut sepulchres of the Etrurians (see ETRURIA, vol. viii. p. 645) supply the only existing specimens of their mural painting; and, unlike the tombs of Egypt, only a small proportion appear to have been decorated in this way. The actual dates of these paintings are very uncertain, but they range possibly from about the 8th century B.C. down to almost the Christina era. The tombs which possess these paintings are mostly square-shaped rooms, with slightly-arched or gabled roofs, excavated in soft sandstone or tufa hillsides. The earlier one show distinct Egyptian influence alike in drawing and in composition: they are very broadly designed with flat unshaded tints, the faces in profile, except the eyes, which are drawn as if front. Colours, as in Egypt, are used conventionally—male flesh red, white or pale yellow for the females, black for demons. In one respect these paintings differ from those of the Egyptians; very few colours are used—red, brown, and yellow orchres, carbon-black, lime or chalk-white, and occasionally blue are the only pigments. The rock-walls are prepared by being covered with a thin skin of lime stucco, and lime or chalk is mixed in small quantities with all the colours; hence the restriction to "earth pigments," made doubly necessary by the constant dampness of these subterranean chambers. The process employed was in fact a kind of fresco, though the stucco ground was not applied in small patches only sufficient for the day’s work ; the dampness of the rock was enough to keep the stucco skin moist, and so allow the necessary infiltration of colour from the surface. Many of these paintings when first discovered were quite fresh in tint and uninjured by time, but they are soon dulled by exposure to light. In the course of centuries great changes of style naturally took place; the early Egyptian influence, probably brought to Etruria though the Phoenician traders, was succeeded by an even more strongly-marked Greek influence—at first archaic and stiff, then developing into great beauty of drawing, and finally yielding to the Roman spirit, as the degradation of Greek art advanced under their powerful but inartistic Roman conquerors.

Throughout this succession of styles—Egyptian, Greek, and Graeco-Roman—there runs a distinct undercurrent of individuality due to the Etruscans themselves. This appears not only in the drawing but also in the choice of subjects. In addition to pictures of banquets with musicians and dancers, hunting and racing scenes, the workshops of different craftsmen and other domestic subjects, all thoroughly Hellenic in sentiment, other paintings occur which are very un-Greek in feeling. These represent the judgment and punishment of souls in a future life. Mantus, Charun, and other infernal deities of the Rasena, hideous in aspect and armed with hammers, or furies, depicted as black bearded demons winged and brandishing live snakes, terrify or torture shrinking human souls. Others, and not the earliest in date, represent human sacrifices, such as those at the tomb of Patroclus—a class of subjects which, though Homeric, appears but rarely to have been selected by Greek painters. The constant import into Etruria of large quantities of fine Greek painted vases appears to have largely contributed to keep up the supremacy of Hellenic influence during many centuries, and by their artistic superiority to have prevented the development of a more original and native school of art. Though we now know Etruscan painting only from the tombs, yet Pliny mentions (H. N., xxxv. 3) that fine wall-paintings existed in his time, with colours yet fresh on the walls of ruined temples at Ardea and Lanuvium, executed, he says, before the founding of Rome. As before mentioned, the actual dates of the existing paintings are very uncertain. It cannot therefore be positively asserted that any existing specimens are much older than 600 B.C., though some, especially at Veii, certainly appear to have the characteristics of more remote antiquity. The most important of these paintings have been discovered in the cemeteries of Veii, Caere, Tarquinii, Vulci, Cervetri, and other Etruscan cities. [Footnote 40-2]


(40-2) See Dennis, Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria (1878); Golini, Pitture murali Etrusche; Micali, Mon. inediti; Mon. and Ann. d. Inst. Arch. (Rome, various years); Canina, L’antica Etruria (1846, et sq.) ; Bartoli, Sepolchri Rom. ed Etrus. (1727); Müller, Etrusker, and other works; Helbig, Pitture Cornetane (1863); Inghirami, Mon. Etruschi (1821-26); Byres, Sepulchral Caverns of Tarquinia (1842); and Raoul Rochette, Mon. d’ Anrtiquité Grecque, Etrusque, et Romaine (1833).

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