You are here

Symbols of Wealth and Power: Architectural Terracotta Decoration in Etruria and Central Italy, 640–510 B.C.

July 2010 (114.3)

Book Review

Symbols of Wealth and Power: Architectural Terracotta Decoration in Etruria and Central Italy, 640–510 B.C.

By Nancy A. Winter (MAAR Suppl. 9). Pp. lii + 650, b&w figs. 213, color figs. 4, tables 99, plans 25, drawings 280. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2009. $95. ISBN 978-0-472-11665-2 (cloth).

Reviewed by

In her second comprehensive book on architectural terracottas, Winter turns her attention from the Greek world (Greek Architectural Terracottas: From the Prehistoric to the End of the Archaic Period [Oxford 1994]) to the Italic one. She continues to focus on early developments: the present work begins with the earliest roofs (ca. 650 B.C.E.) and concludes with the shift from figural to floral motifs and more standardized production ca. 510 B.C.E. As in the previous book, this one takes both a chronological and a regional approach. Readers will find a familiar organization into systems, followed by individual roofs and then specific components. Yet, visually, this work is clearer, with varied fonts and type sizes, numerous illustrations, and photographs inserted into the text.

The discussion begins with a chapter on undecorated or modestly decorated roofs, which seem to appear slightly earlier than decorated ones, although the difference is at most 10 to 20 years. Some of these roofs are from Acquarossa, where private houses stop receiving decorated roofs in the second quarter of the sixth century B.C.E. This practice is also attested at other sites and is perhaps motivated by economic or administrative changes. The latest examples in this chapter extend into the early fifth century B.C.E., although the author notes that undecorated roofs continued to be used long afterward (8).

Decorated roofs from the late Orientalizing period (640/630–580 B.C.E.) are discussed in chapter 2. They are especially well represented at Poggio Civitate (Murlo) and Acquarossa, with more poorly preserved examples attested at a few other sites. While lateral simas are found in some of the earliest roofs, raking simas do not appear until ca. 600 B.C.E. These roofs also use antefixes, revetment and other types of plaques, and a wide variety of acroteria. Their decoration depends mostly on paint, rather than relief. Winter points out that these roofs, like their contemporary undecorated counterparts, “all use the same general types of plain tiles to cover the main area” of the roof (141), but one is struck by the variety of small differences that she elucidates.

Succeeding chapters are organized accord-ing to systems that are for the most part geographically distinct. Systems are typically named for the sites or regions that employed them, some of which may extend over a large area (as the Rome-Campania-northern Etruria system [ch. 3]), while others are more limited (esp. that from Caere [ch. 6]). One system will often inspire another, although the degree of overlap varies. Thus, the Rome-Campania-northern Etruria system forms the basis of that discussed in the following chapter (“Decorative System Using Primarily Military Scenes, 580–540 B.C.” [ch. 4]), and the two systems are mixed at some sites (224). Despite its use of similar elements, the latter is distinguished by an emphasis on military scenes in its figural depictions, the limited use of acroteria, and its occasional application to funerary naiskoi.

The Veii-Rome-Velletri system (ch. 5) shows inspiration from the system described in chapter 4 in its raking simas. It, in turn, spawns two variants, which apparently do not warrant classification as separate systems. The Rome-Caprifico variant has a smaller range of scenes and more militaristic interpretation on its revetment plaques, and the later Tarquinia-Rusellae-Vetulonia imitators show even more changes. The Veii-Rome-Velletri system, and probably at least the first variant, are characterized by the same three types of acroteria: human figures, volutes, and sphinxes. These two groups are also united, according to Winter, by their production in a single workshop, probably by East Greek artisans. Another, more northern workshop is given credit for the still later imitators.

Continuing the progression, certain motifs from the Veii-Rome-Velletri system are adopted at Caere (ch. 6), and Caeretan motifs are diffused to the Tarquinia-Veii system (ch. 7). These roofs also reflect East Greek traditions and were likely produced in workshops that included East Greek (in particular, Phocaean) immigrants. The influence of one system on another implies some chronological succession, and that is indicated also by the accepted dating.

Common traits provide the basis for assembling roofs and elements into specific systems, but the level of correspondence may vary considerably. While the Caeretan system employs three different types of decoration for its raking simas (geometric, floral, and figural), its members are so similar in form, technique, and decoration as to be assigned to a single city and even the same workshop. The system from Rome-Campania-northern Etruria, however, may use either antefixes or lateral simas, even on the same building at Murlo. Revetment plaques may be crowned by a flat fascia or convex strigils, again sometimes on the same roof. Examples from Campania display painted guilloches rather than figural reliefs on the face below. Acroteria are especially diverse, although the evidence may be skewed by Murlo. Nevertheless, Winter attributes these roofs to artisans from a single workshop, probably in Rome.

This raises the question of specifically what criteria define systems and variants, and how closely each roof must adhere. The introduction states only that a system “employs all or most of the same types of roof elements with the same decorative motifs” (2). Chapter 8 offers further (but not complete) clarification in the discussion of workshops. The author traces the historical development of workshop practices, suggesting greater diversity and interaction over time. Already in the early sixth century, artisans traveled for commissions and created molds on-site following models of their own workshops. With the introduction of piece molds ca. 570–560 B.C.E., the mold became portable. This development also allowed for the interchange of crownings and friezes and thus more diversity within types. Apparently, as mobility increased, workshops extended their range of commissions and their interactions with others.

The book ends with two chapters that present the material in yet another way. Chapter 9, for example, treats each site separately, in alphabetical order. The conclusions discuss building forms, location of decoration, motifs, and historical implications. This book is thus an extremely rich and useful publication. It stands as a worthy successor to Andrén's now outdated Architectural Terracottas from Etrusco-Italic Temples (Lund 1940). Its bibliography is extensive and current, and its documentation of roofs and individual elements is admirable. Students and scholars will mine this book for years to come.

Barbara A. Barletta
School of Art and Art History
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611

Book Review of Symbols of Wealth and Power: Architectural Terracotta Decoration in Etruria and Central Italy, 640–510 B.C., by Nancy A. Winter

Reviewed by Barbara A. Barletta

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 3 (July 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1143.Barletta

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.