Session 1 – Art, Art History, and History

Title

Mortis et vitae locus: Dirty Pictures in Etruscan Tombs

Major

History/Art History

List all Project Mentors & Advisor(s)

Dr. Zbynek Smetana

Presentation Format

Event

Abstract/Description

Much has been written on the topic of Etruscan funerary art, particularly on the wall paintings contained within Etruscan tombs. There are some Etruscan tombs that are very rarely mentioned, and even more rarely shown; they contain erotic imagery. Of these tombs, I will discuss two, the Tomba dei Tori (Tomb of the Bulls) and the Tomba Della Fustigazione (Tomb of the Whipping). These Etruscan tomb paintings, like wall paintings and sculpture of the Romans and vase painting of the Greeks, reflect a dimension of ancient society that is unknown to us today. My purpose is not to discuss every lurid detail of these tomb paintings. Rather, it is to explain the erotic figures in Etruscan tombs in terms of their cultural utility. Interpretations of the images found in the Tomb of the Bulls and the Tomb of the Whipping are of great number and diversity. One interpretation has been handed down to us by later Etruscans' Roman contemporaries; this holds that Etruscans were simply morally bankrupt and given to frequent indulgence of their animalistic whims. A second deals with the apotropaic significance of grotesque images; in other words, the frescoes were intended to ward off evil. Similar to this is the theory, previously mentioned briefly, that the images suggest fertility and continued virility after death. Last, and I believe most likely, is the theory that the frescoes of these tombs link the deceased owner of the tomb with the cult of Dionysus.

Other Affiliations

Art, Art History, and History

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Mortis et vitae locus: Dirty Pictures in Etruscan Tombs

Much has been written on the topic of Etruscan funerary art, particularly on the wall paintings contained within Etruscan tombs. There are some Etruscan tombs that are very rarely mentioned, and even more rarely shown; they contain erotic imagery. Of these tombs, I will discuss two, the Tomba dei Tori (Tomb of the Bulls) and the Tomba Della Fustigazione (Tomb of the Whipping). These Etruscan tomb paintings, like wall paintings and sculpture of the Romans and vase painting of the Greeks, reflect a dimension of ancient society that is unknown to us today. My purpose is not to discuss every lurid detail of these tomb paintings. Rather, it is to explain the erotic figures in Etruscan tombs in terms of their cultural utility. Interpretations of the images found in the Tomb of the Bulls and the Tomb of the Whipping are of great number and diversity. One interpretation has been handed down to us by later Etruscans' Roman contemporaries; this holds that Etruscans were simply morally bankrupt and given to frequent indulgence of their animalistic whims. A second deals with the apotropaic significance of grotesque images; in other words, the frescoes were intended to ward off evil. Similar to this is the theory, previously mentioned briefly, that the images suggest fertility and continued virility after death. Last, and I believe most likely, is the theory that the frescoes of these tombs link the deceased owner of the tomb with the cult of Dionysus.