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Etruscan Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
January 2015 (119.1)
Etruscan Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
By Richard Daniel De Puma. Pp. xiii + 336, figs. 538, maps 3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2013. $75. ISBN 978-0-300-17953-8 (cloth).
De Puma’s catalogue is a wonderful addition to an ever-growing body of recent publications on Etruscan art and culture. As one might expect from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the volume is spectacularly illustrated, with many full-page color photographs of the collection’s bronzes, ceramics, and jewelry, including an ample number of objects presented in multiple views. However, while this handsome volume can certainly be admired for its beauty, its value does not lie in attractiveness alone. De Puma’s book will be equally at home on the coffee tables of museum-goers as in the libraries of art historians and archaeologists. A careful combination of accessible background discussion on Etruscan culture with detailed and up-to-date analysis of objects and tomb groups allows the author to present this important collection of ancient art meaningfully to a wide readership.
De Puma introduces the material with a helpful discussion of the history of Etruscan studies and the development of the museum’s Etruscan collection. These two sections highlight the importance of Etruscan art early on in the development of the Department of Greek and Roman Art. When Etruscan objects were featured in their own gallery in 1933, it marked the first time in the United States there was a gallery devoted exclusively to Etruscan art. In the intervening years, Etruscan gallery space was modified, and along with much of the Greek and Roman collection, Etruscan art received its greatest prominence in the museum with the renovation and new installation of the Greek and Roman galleries, which opened in 2007. At this time, approximately 560 Etruscan objects were incorporated and displayed in the mezzanine above the Roman court, where they remain today.
This volume represents the most extensive assemblage of the museum’s Etruscan collection in print to date. In fact, one of the most important contributions of the catalogue is its exclusivity to the Etruscan objects, which have been excised from their uncomfortable (but all-too-familiar) position between the museum’s eponymous Greek and Roman collection. While De Puma certainly acknowledges the interrelationship between Greek and Etruscan art, the focus of this publication is the placement of Etruscan art within its own cultural and historical context. Introductory sections on Etruscan lifestyle, language, and belief system in particular facilitate this aim. Two maps and a chart of Etruscan divinities are useful resources for students or those encountering this material for the first time.
The catalogue focuses on the objects; 412 entries are included (a concordance is provided). In general, De Puma’s entries are descriptive and substantive, presenting the Etruscan objects within a cultural framework that highlights the unique aspects of the Etruscans independent of their Greek and Roman neighbors. To this end, entries often make connections among other objects within the collection, and frequently several objects of a similar nature are grouped together under a single number and further distinguished by “a,” “b,” “c,” and so on. Although chronology provides the dominant organization for the chapters, material within chapters is grouped by medium and/or shape, with introductory passages that contextualize the material. For example, the section “Etruscan Impasto and Bucchero Pottery” (86–107) begins with a short narration of the different types (e.g., bucchero pesante, bucchero sottile) and guidance on matters of chronology, technique, and production centers. These short passages are quite useful, and although their placement within the catalogue follows the chronology of Etruscan art known to specialists, they are easily accessible through the table of contents for those less familiar.
This book presents a multitude of Etruscan objects (with particular emphasis on bronzes); it is impossible to consider them individually. The chronological arrangement naturally places the greatest emphasis on the Orientalizing and Archaic periods, which are particularly well represented; however, a short chapter (ch. 2) on proto-Etruscan (Villanovan) and Italic art (28 entries) provides a brief overview and includes an excellent summary of Iron Age fibulas.
The following three chapters (“Orientalizing and Archaic Periods” [ch. 4; 126 entries]; “Classical Period” [ch. 5; 32 entries]; “Etrusco-Hellenistic Period” [ch. 6; 95 entries]) each include a discussion of a reconstructed tomb group from that period in the collection. This format allows each period to be exemplified through a specific funerary context. Although attribution issues have plagued these groups, which lack full excavation context, and the contents are not always complete, De Puma does an excellent job of concentrating on how the artifacts present are illustrative of the period. For example, at the beginning of chapter 4, the famous Monteleone chariot (cat. no. 4.1a–e) is considered individually in terms of its iconography, but it is also situated within the tomb and the accompanying metal objects associated with banqueting to demonstrate typical elite burials of the time. The Bolsena tomb group from the Etrusco-Hellenistic period (cat. nos. 6.25–6.40) offers a similarly provocative assortment of objects (again largely metal), including several marked with the inscription śuthina, which De Puma (“A Third-Century B.C.E. Etruscan Tomb Group from Bolsena in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” AJA 112  429–40) has speculated indicates that they were designated specifically “for the tomb.” The represented tomb groups were all acquired in the early part of the 20th century, and thus there is little certainty about the identity of the tomb’s owners. De Puma does speculate about gender, which naturally arises from consideration of the types of objects in the tomb groups. However, the recently discovered burial of a female with traditionally “male” goods in Tarquinia (“Oops! Etruscan Warrior Prince Really a Princess,” Discovery News [21 October 2013] http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/etruscan-warrior-prince-really-a-princess-131021.htm) reminds us of the pitfalls of such traditional gendered assumptions.
The final two chapters of the volume do not adhere to the chronological format. Chapter 7 is an overview of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s impressive and important collection of “Etruscan and Italic Jewelry, Ambers and Gems” (119 entries), and chapter 8 covers “Forgeries, Pastiches and Objects of Unknown Authenticity” (12 entries). It is ideal for De Puma to direct special attention here, as they are among his areas of expertise. And while neither section maintains the same focus on objects as evidence of cultural context that is offered in previous chapters, chapter 7 is useful for any scholar of ancient jewelry, and chapter 8 for a proper understanding of the history of the collection.
Gretchen E. Meyers
Department of Classics
Franklin & Marshall College
Book Review of Etruscan Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Richard Daniel De Puma
Reviewed by Gretchen E. Meyers
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 119, No. 1 (January 2015)
Published online at www.ajaonline.org/book-review/1965