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Deliciae Fictiles IV: Architectural Terracottas in Ancient Italy. Images of Gods, Monsters and Heroes

July 2012 (116.3)

Book Review

Deliciae Fictiles IV: Architectural Terracottas in Ancient Italy. Images of Gods, Monsters and Heroes

Edited by Patricia Lulof and Carlo Rescigno. Pp. xiv + 633, b&w figs. 730, color pls. 16. Oxbow Books, Oakville, Conn. 2011. $80. ISBN 978-1-84217-426-5 (cloth).

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“A 650-page book on architectural terracottas? And it’s volume FOUR?” exclaimed an art historian friend, alarmed at the thought that an entire genre of ancient art had completely escaped his notice. While the study of architectural terracottas has not suddenly burst forth onto the scholarly scene fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, it is mostly in the last 20 years that the genre has attracted such broad interest.

The first conference on the subject was held in Rome in 1990, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Andrén’s then-definitive book, Architectural Terracottas from Etrusco-Italic Temples (Leipzig 1940). The proceedings were published as Deliciae Fictiles: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Central Italic Architectural Terracottas at the Swedish Institute in Rome, 10–12 December 1990 (Stockholm 1996); the volumes from the three successive conferences, Deliciae Fictiles II: Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Archaic Architectural Terracottas from Italy Held at the Netherlands Institute in Rome 12–13 June 1996 (Amsterdam 1997), Deliciae Fictiles III: Architectural Terracottas in Ancient Italy. New Discoveries and Interpretations (Oxford 2006), and the volume under review have increased in size by quantum leaps. The Deliciae Fictiles IV conference, which yielded this volume, was organized by its editors, Lulof (University of Amsterdam) and Rescigno (Second University of Naples). The conference dates, 21–25 October 2009, coincided with the presentation of the now-definitive book on the architectural terracottas of archaic Italy, Symbols of Wealth and Power: Architectural Terracotta Decoration in Etruria and Central Italy, 640–510 B.C. (Ann Arbor, Mich. 2009), by Winter, who is now hailed as the new Andrén.

The growth of scholarship in this field of study should not be surprising, given the ubiquity of the material and the vast range of research directions that it offers. Before more solid building materials such as brick and concrete became viable, all structures, both public and private, were made of timber and wattle-and-daub; terracotta was used to revet and protect the exposed impermanent materials. The wide roofs of Etruscan houses, which inspired Vitruvius to describe them as barycephalae (“heavy-headed”) also served to hold up the walls with their weight, as in a house of cards. The use of decorative terracotta roof tiles in Italy can be dated to the latter half of the seventh century B.C.E.; the technology seems to have been brought by the Bacchiads, who were exiled from Corinth, from 657 to 583 B.C.E. (N. Winter, “Commerce in Exile: Terracotta Roofing in Etruria, Corfu and Sicily, a Bacchiad Family Enterprise,” EtrStud 9 [2003] 227–36). Thus, the floruit of architectural terracottas is long, and runs from the Orientalizing to the Hellenistic period.

The most dramatic and best known—the large-scale figures that sit or stride along the roof ridges of monumental buildings, for example the wide-hatted “cowboys” from Poggio Civitate (Murlo) or the gods from the Portonaccio Temple at Veii—date to the Archaic period. These are featured in all the textbooks; but there is an enormous number of unknown or lesser-known examples, many unpublished, that have turned up in recent excavations or in museum storerooms, and these are being studied with new interest. The questions they pose are varied. Architectural terracottas are both sculptural and architectural (with painterly qualities as well); their contexts are both public and private, religious and secular. They raise issues both of artistic style and hard-science analysis, of political and mythological iconography, and of cultural, technological, and economic influences throughout the Mediterranean world.

The organizers of the fourth international Deliciae Fictiles conference sought to narrow down the material by focusing on the theme of “Gods, Monsters and Heroes.” Nonetheless, this volume comprises 60 papers (10 in English, 2 in German, the rest in Italian), of which 50, collected in part 1, were presentations relating specifically to the theme. Part 2 of the volume, “Additions,” contains the material from the poster sessions or papers on more general topics. The volume is directed toward scholars and specialists in the field, so that the reader is expected to be acquainted with, for example, the reasoning and evidence behind the interpretation of mythological figures as political symbols, or the location of the more remote sites. This review cannot discuss specific papers, given their number, but it will list some titles and topics in order to give a sense of the range of matters discussed and the great wealth of information presented in this impressive volume.

Section 1 of part 1 consists of 10 papers on general subjects. These deal with a period of time (“Fictilia Tecta: Riflessioni storiche sull’arcaismo etrusco e romano” [Torelli]; “The Late Archaic Miracle: Roof Decoration in Central Italy Between 510 and 450 BC” [Lulof]; “Gli altorilievi tardo arcaici tra Roma e Lazio” [Strazzulla]; “An Age Without Images: Architectural Decoration in the Late Republican Period” [Rous]), a specific theme (Amazons [Willemsen], sirens [Opganhaffen], horses [Moustaka], and Nikai [Känel]), or a technical/structural issue (“Akroteria in Ancient Italy: Images and Architectural Traditions” [Edlund-Berry]; “The Evolution of Bases for Acroteria in Etruria and Latium [640/630–510 BC]” [Winter]).

The material in the remaining sections of part 1 is almost exclusively site-specific. Section 2 focuses on central Italy and is divided into two sections chronologically. The “Archaic Period” section contains 11 papers covering new material from the sites of Veii (Michetti, Maras, Carlucci), Cerveteri (Bellelli and Rizzo), Falerii (Menichetti), Guadocinto di Tuscania (Moretti Sgubini), Orvieto (Stopponi), the Forum Boarium in Rome (Sommela), Lavinium ( Jaia), and Ardea (Ceccharelli). The “Post-Archaic” section presents material from Civitavecchia (Marchesini and Biella), Fabrica di Roma (Ambrosini), Tarquinia (Bagnasco Gianni), Vetulonia (Rafanelli), Bevagna (Picuti), Luni (De Tommaso, Paribeni, and Sorge), Monte Pallano (Kane, Crawford, and Agostini), Chieti-Civitella (Liberatore), the Marche (Landolfini, Micheli, and Santucci), and Ardea (Rossi).

Section 3 presents material from sites in Campania and Magna Graecia: Cuma and Capua (Rescigno and Sampaolo; Vollaro; Dewailly and Munzi-Santoriello), Teanum Sidicinum (Sirano), Pompeii (Danner), Fratte (Pontrandolfo, Serritella, and Monda), Torre di Satriano (Osanna), Vaglio di Basilicata (Greco), and Capo Colonna di Crotona (Aversa). Section 4 focuses on Sicily, with half of the papers discussing general regional developments and others specific sites; these include Naxos (Pelagatti and Lentini), Gela (Greco, Ferrara), and Selinunte (Conti).

Part 2, “Additions,” is again divided into two regional sections: (1) central Italy and (2) Magna Graecia and Sicily. The former section contains papers of great interest dealing with material from well-known sites: a young Apollo from Veii (Winter and Lulof), a house-tower at Veii (Bartoloni, ten Courtenar, and van Kampen), Hellenistic Musarna ( Jolivet), the Latin colony of Spoletium (Befani, Donnini, and Marchetti), and Temple C at Populonia (Ghizzani Marcia).

In a helpful section of abstracts, the papers are organized alphabetically by author. Although the bibliography at the end of the volume does not list all the sources cited or abbreviated in the endnotes of the papers (the individual papers do not have their own bibliographies), it is nonetheless very useful.

A few shortcomings should be mentioned: first, the papers are in need of another round of copy editing. Also, while the papers are rich with illustrations in black-and-white, only a few images are reproduced in a section of color plates at the end. The exquisite renderings of reconstructions or diagrams can be read clearly, but the photographed details of some fragments, perhaps considered too prosaic to rate a color version, are illegible and do not illustrate their point. These criticisms are minor, however, in comparison with the wealth of information that can be mined from this volume by a wide variety of interested readers.

Jane Whitehead
Modern and Classical Languages Department
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, Georgia 31698

Book Review of Deliciae Fictiles IV: Architectural Terracottas in Ancient Italy. Images of Gods, Monsters and Heroes, edited by Patricia Lulof and Carlo Rescigno

Reviewed by Jane Whitehead

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 116, No. 3 (July 2012)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1163.Whitehead

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