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New Perspectives on Etruria and Early Rome: In Honor of Richard Daniel De Puma

July 2010 (114.3)

Book Review

New Perspectives on Etruria and Early Rome: In Honor of Richard Daniel De Puma

Edited by Sinclair Bell and Helen Nagy. Pp. xxiv + 305, figs. 121. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison 2009. $55. ISBN 978-0-299-23030-2 (cloth).

Reviewed by

Richard Daniel De Puma is the professor emeritus of art history at the University of Iowa, or, specifically, the recipient of the enhanced honor of an F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Professorship (named after a local lawyer) at the same university. De Puma trained at Swarthmore College and Bryn Mawr College and, supported by these intellectual foundations, developed his distinctive approach to material culture. During his career, he has most notably specialized in Etruscan art and is well known for his work on Etruscan tomb groups, the sites of Murlo and Crustumerium, vases, mirrors, and later Roman portraiture. This volume contains 18 contributions that hold a mirror, both materially and metaphorically, to his career in the study of the Etruscans, their neighbors, and their successors—the Romans. These wide-ranging interests can be compared with a complete bibliography of De Puma’s works—conveniently located at the beginning of the book—that covers the period from 1968 to this volume’s publication date. In addition to his substantial monographs on themes already noted, his support of the AJA and the Archaeological Institute of America, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is notable and celebrated.

The contributions exhibit the same diversity in the art historical field that is represented in De Puma’s career. They range from the macro contexts of historical research to the micro contexts of painstaking excavation; they include precise analyses of material culture and the broader interpretative frameworks of cultural history; and they cover the first millennia B.C.E./C.E., with appropriate excursions into the 17th, 18th, and more recent centuries, to establish the essential historiographical context.

Three articles relate to the history of research. Two use literary materials to reconstruct lost elements of the past. Of these, one investigates the context of bronze busts from Herculaneum; the other discusses the recovery of the lost work of Athanasius Kircher, Iter Hetruscum, that presaged Thomas Dempster’s De Hetruria Regali. A third, more modern, historical analysis investigates an important and central area of De Puma’s research: the authentication and detection of forgery. It is particularly interesting to see the entanglement of collection strategies with the world of Japan, which has led to the production of forgeries that fit local taste.

Four important articles tackle another core interest—the art historical dimensions of material culture. It is appropriate to discover contributions to the study of gold jewelry, iconography, broader artistic analysis, and a major focus of his work, mirrors. The gold jewelry under study includes examples from Etruscan, Faliscan, and unprovenanced sources now in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, an institution much visited and supported by De Puma in his career. The iconographic study focuses on the intriguing cross-cultural detail of the Baubo gesture, a form of sexual revelation with a plausible mythical link. A shorter piece looks across the classical world at the presentation of iconography without the use of linear perspective. The final element in this group looks minutely at dueling warriors on two bronze mirrors, extracting intriguing details by a process of contextualized iconographic exegesis.

Even though De Puma concentrated his career on the contexts intrinsic to objects themselves, he also strongly appreciated their more strictly archaeological contexts. One area tending to contain intact material formed a substantial focus of his career: graves, particularly at Crustumerium. The first of the Crustumerium contributions, by the indefatigable and highly respected inspector of the site, di Gennaro, analyzes the protection of the city from the inevitable clandestini, using innovative techniques of loans of material. The last of the Crustumerium contributions sets the graves in a landscape perspective.

Four articles cross the Tiber to examine the prominent theme of Etruscan funerary culture. The first employs detective work to refine the provenance of a north Etruscan cinerary cover to the area of Perugia by matching the current state of the object to an ancient drawing, thus working out the intriguing biography of the artwork and showing the concentration of double-couple iconography in this frontier city. The second is a particularly interesting study that dwells on the relationship between the human and the animal, principally but not exclusively in funerary contexts, by exploring the meaning of sacrifice and anthropophagy. Another article collects evidence for the deification of the deceased. The last looks at the development over time of the winged Vanth figure, which comes to greatest prominence in the fourth century B.C.E. and provides a transfer of the theme into the Celtic world.

In parallel to De Puma’s career, there is also a section of four articles that extend into the Roman period. A first article analyzes the propagandic role of Roman art at Civitalba. A second, field-based report explores the ruins of Chianciano in terms of Trajanic cults. A third article investigates the ritual component of the Roman circus. A further contribution takes a more artistic approach by looking at the ancient art of copying pictures at Pompeii.

De Puma did not engage in much fieldwork or any landscape approaches, so these areas do not feature prominently in the volume and are seen only in two contributions related to Crustumerium. However, the volume provides a rounded account of the specific approach De Puma made to archaeology, reflected through the work of his like-minded colleagues. This is given a fresh touch by combining fiction and nonfiction in the final contribution, which concludes this tribute to his career.

Simon Stoddart
Magdalene College
Cambridge University
Cambridge CB3 OAG
United Kingdom

Book Review of New Perspectives on Etruria and Early Rome: In Honor of Richard Daniel De Puma, edited by Sinclair Bell and Helen Nagy

Reviewed by Simon Stoddart

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

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1143.Stoddart

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