Saturday, November 29, 2008

Etruscan Sarcophagi

Group of Etruscan Sarcophagi lids

Larth Tetnies and his wife Thanchvil Tarnai (350 - 300 BCE)

Etruscan art seems the product of a culture rich in self-awareness, in the pleasures of life - especially to include those of conjugal love - and in the vivid appeal of fine craftsmanship. Their elegant mirrors might be a good metaphor for their civilization, about which sadly too little is known. They may have come in from Lydia, as Herodotus attests; as reported in the New York Times, DNA evidence now supports the idea.
The Etruscans stand mid-way between Greece and Rome, with strong affinities especially with Archaic Greek style, and providing Roman culture much of its art and sophistication. The Romans are notoriously more interested in the arts of others, both Greek and Etruscan, than their own.

Nicholas Wade in the NYT writes:

“Sharing wives is an established Etruscan custom,” wrote the Greek historian Theopompos of Chios in the fourth century B.C. “Etruscan women take particular care of their bodies and exercise often. It is not a disgrace for them to be seen naked. Further, they dine not with their own husbands, but with any men who happen to be present.”

He added that Etruscan women “are also expert drinkers and are very good looking.”
The immediate response I get to Etruscan art is from its finely polished or detailed surfaces and intricate sophistication.

My own introduction to Etruscan art was the married couple pictured above, Larth Tetnies - the son of Arnth Tetnies and Ramtha Vishnai - and his loving wife Thanchvil Tarnai. This work is unusual for its expressively human qualities. The intertwining lines and shapes of their bodies are fascinatingly abstract yet abundantly and warmly real. My students all respond well to it.

An especially yummy site for more on Etruscan art is by a teacher with the wonderful name, Rozmeri Basic.