Etruscan Metal Work

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Etruscan Metal Work

Etruscan Metal WorkWITH a single exception – some coarse canvas discovered at Volterra – the whole of the Etruscan antiquities with which I am acquainted are made of mineral substances, whether metal, stone, pottery, or frescoes; these throw considerable light on the customs of this ancient people, for of their literature we have no remains.  Having drawn from nature a variety of objects illustrating the state of art among the Etruscans, I append some engraved sketches here, as showing what metals they were in the habit of working.  Excepting tin and gold, I have no doubt that all the metals employed in the manufacture of these articles were obtained from mines situated in Tuscany; they have, therefore, a direct bearing on this subject.

Before commencing a special description of the engravings, a few cursory remarks on Etruscan art may be acceptable.

The Egyptian forms of the earlier Etruscan alabaster gods, no less point to their intercourse with Africa than the exquisite filagree work introduced by them from Egypt into Italy, where this art seems to have been preserved up to the present time, though, to my mind, the Etruscan ear-ring I have drawn is in no way inferior in point of taste and workmanship to similar productions now made in the manufactories at Genoa.   I feel persuaded that we might become far better acquainted with the social condition of the Etruscans by a more thorough and thoughtful examination of their works of art.  A mere glance at the graceful designs and fine features observable in their statues, leads one to form a very favourable opinion of the Etruscans as compared with the Egyptians.   There is more action in their figures; a fine open brow, a handsome nose and well-chiselled mouth, and eyes which bespeak less of the sensuous and more of the intellectual, take the place of that stern fixedness of expression and the hard features so conspicuous in Egyptian types.  In Etruria, too, we never find representations of monsters half-man, half-beast such as the Egyptian sphinxes. Many other circumstantial evidences might be adduced confirmatory of this remark; thus their mode of writing.   In Egypt, mysterious and complicated hieroglyphics were employed, in which, probably, the priesthood and the members of the government were alone skilled, while the masses were entirely ignorant of any method of embodying their thoughts in a material form.  

I am well aware that some might object that this was during the infancy of knowledge and art, no better means of writing being yet known, but I would give a conclusive argument against such a theory, since the Israelites remained 430 years in Egypt, and we are acquainted with the simplicity of the characters they employed, so that the Egyptian hierarchy, or, at any rate the government, must have had great dealings with the Jews, at least during the time that they lived in the land of Goshen, and they evidently preferred keeping the lower orders in ignorance and slavery, by enshrouding all knowledge under a veil of difficulty and mystery.  In Etruria, on the other hand, we see how, by the simplicity of their alphabet, they early brought the art of writing down to the level of the people.  Finding, as we do, coins struck by numerous cities in Etruria, we learn that these possessed somewhat equal rank, incompatible with the idea that the princes who held sway were under a single despot, such as the Pharaohs.

Excerpt from The Mineral Resources of Central Italy by William Paget Jervis – 1862

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Further Reading and External Links

Etruscan Metalwork Photographs from the Chiusi Museum of Etruscan Archaeology

Discovering Etruscan and Greek Influences