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This article by Phyllis Maguire was prepared for the February 25, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New Light for the Etruscans
It was a New York politician – William Learned Marcy – who in 1832 pointed out in a speech to the U.S. Senate that, "To the victors belong the spoils." He could have added this other truism: that the victors get to write all the press as well.
In retrospectives of ancient history, two cultures have long hogged space in history books and museum exhibits: the democracy-loving (at least for guys) Greeks, and the clever, land-hungry Romans. But other cultures thrived outside – and even under – the long shadows of the Greek and Roman empires.
One frequently forgotten one belonged to the Etruscans, earlier inhabitants of the Italian boot whose people and achievements were eventually absorbed (and often denigrated) by the Romans. But while these three major Mediterranean cultures – the Etruscan, Greek, and Roman – vied for commercial and military dominance, they also borrowed heavily from and depended upon each other.
The "Worlds Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans," a multi-million dollar re-installation of the classical collections that opened last year at Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, highlights each of the three cultures, as well as the essential interaction that took place among them. Ten years in the making at a cost of $3 million, the newly refurbished suite of galleries offers a side-by-side look at three civilizations that competed, traded, and clashed with one another for more than 1,000 years.
The exhibit covers a significant overlap in time – the exhibit’s Greek World gallery contains artifacts from 1100 to 31 B.C., while there are Etruscan pieces from 800 to 100 B.C., and Roman artifacts from 200 B.C to 500 A.D. – as well as territory. The land once dominated by each culture lights up at the touch of a button on a large mounted map at the beginning of the exhibit.
The Greeks ruled a square bordered by the Aegean Sea, with colonies sprinkled throughout lower Italy and Sicily, and a swath of conquered land eastward through Persia to India. The Etruscans flourished in a diamond-shaped space situated in upper and central Italy, while the Romans owned the whole map, a huge belt that encircled the ancient world from Britain through Iberia, across Africa and up through Turkey.
The three were often commercial rivals and sometimes military enemies; the Etruscans lost several battles to the upstart Romans before the juggernaut of Roman expansion rolled over Etruria.
But the three cultures also strongly influenced one another. Take trade, for instance. The Etruscans were master sailors and had the raw metals – particularly iron and copper – the Greeks needed for weapons and implements.
The Etruscans in turn were eager to get Greek oil, wine, and black and red painted pottery. Most of the beautifully painted Greek vases in the Greek World gallery, in fact, were found in Etruscan tombs – and early archaeologists excavated so much Greek pottery from Etruscan sites that they once thought the Etruscans had produced it themselves.
The three cultures helped themselves to each other’s intellectual property as well. Each made mathematical contributions, while the Etruscans refined the alphabet they had borrowed from the Greeks (who borrowed it from the Phoenicians) before passing it on to the Romans.
Etruscan advances in building cities and walls became the foundation for Roman achievements in structural and civil engineering. And each adapted each other’s gods, burial customs, and religious practices.
Of the three, Etruria has long been overshadowed by its more famous rivals. But the Etruscans have been enjoying a renaissance of renewed interest. Scholars over the past 30 years have learned much more about the Etruscans from ongoing excavations.
"We as a culture now have more interest in ‘the other,’" says Ann Blair Brownlee, one of exhibit’s three co-curators and the senior research scientist for the museum’s Mediterranean section. While scholars have long lavished attention on Greek and Roman achievements, "we’re now much more interested in a wider world view and who was around at the same time."
That broader line of inquiry encompasses "the context," Brownlee says, of ancient people’s lives – not just what monuments they may have built, but what their beliefs and customs were and what their daily lives may have been like. The same trend in this country has spurred a growth in "living history" exhibits and publications that detail the lives of women, enslaved African Americans, and Civil War-era foot soldiers.
But in the case of the Etruscans, the search for broader context is complicated by the fact that virtually no historic documents produced by what Brownlee describes as a "highly literate" people have survived. While scholars can study the religious inscriptions in lavishly appointed Etruscan tombs, records from Etruscan authors and historians have perished.
Furthermore, the references to the Etruscans we do have were all penned by the Greeks and Romans – who often had an axe to grind. (Even the name we know them by is a Roman moniker, the "Etrusci"; the Etruscans referred to themselves as the "Rasenna.") The Greeks, who competed with the Etruscans for maritime trade, referred to them as "Pirates," although Brownlee says the slur may have had more to do with protecting commercial markets than actual lawlessness.
Both the Greeks and Romans criticized the far more visible role women played in Etruscan culture. As the exhibit makes clear, women in Etruria could own and inherit property, conduct business, and integrate their social life with men much more than their Greek or Roman counterparts.
Because of the Etruscans’ "very negative press" from Greek and Latin authors, Brownlee says, "archaeology has been very important in filling in the picture." But even that picture remains necessarily incomplete. While archaeologists have been able to excavate Etruscan tombs, many of the culture’s urban sites – a major Etruscan achievement was their development of at least a dozen cities – are now inaccessible. They form the bottom layer that lies under present-day Italian cities.
"Etruscan towns were hill towns situated in great places to build cities – so people just kept building on them," Brownlee says, citing the Umbrian cliff city of Orvieto as a prime example. The original Etruscan town there was overlain by a Roman town, which in turn formed the foundation of first a medieval, then a Renaissance, and now a modern city.
"Orvieto has major Etruscan ruins," Brownlee says, "but archaeologists are able to excavate them in only certain areas." The university, which still sponsors excavations worldwide, has one ongoing Etruscan excavation at Poggio Colla, near Florence.
Much of the museum’s vast Etruscan collection came from tombs excavated in the 1890s. (Since then international laws have been passed to regulate how many artifacts can be removed from a country of origin, making it impossible for foreign museums now to acquire as much swag.) While tombs yield insights into the culture’s wealthiest class – and Etruscan tombs contained both the deceased’s remains and elaborate household furnishings – they also have a major advantage over urban site excavations: Tomb objects stand a much better chance of remaining intact.
The Etruscan World gallery includes an audio recording of the group’s lost language, as well as objects from several tombs that reveal the Etruscan mastery of metalwork, such as a warrior’s elaborate bronze-crested helmet and breastplate. A woman’s tomb yielded beautiful bronze pendants, while a child’s contained delicately crafted metal fibulae, pins used to fasten clothes.
The gallery contains ample evidence of Etruscan trade and interaction with Greece: luxury items, such as perfume bottles, were probably supplied by the Greeks, while a carved alabaster burial urn shows the Greek influence on Etruscan stone-carving.
There are many examples of the culture’s wealth and artistry: dark gray and black bucchero pottery, elaborately painted terracotta jugs with scenes of Etruscan banquets, ceramic bowls, and votive trays. There is a fourth century B.C. filigreed gold necklace studded with pendants, as well as architectural ornaments taken from Etruscan temples.
Some of the ornaments contain relief heads that conjure the rich world of Etruscan myth and religion, one that relied extensively on divining the will of the gods from animal sacrifices and portents in natural signs such as lightning and the flights of birds. (Instead of reading horoscopes, the Etruscans spent time studying sheep entrails, especially the all-knowing liver!) The gallery features the country’s biggest display of Etruscan artifacts; only the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Etruscan collection is larger, but it is not currently being displayed.
The Greek World Gallery – which has been opened since 1994, the first in the renovated suite to be completed – is likewise divided into different display themes including daily life, religious life, death and burial, and manufacturing and trade. Much of the exhibit consists of hundreds of examples of beautifully painted Greek pottery, their narrative art offering fascinating glimpses into life in the ancient world.
Marble and bronze figures as well as votive figurines reveal the culture’s strong religious bent. Even the Greeks’ highly-touted athleticism, displayed in ceramic scenes of horse racing and wrestling competitions, was fueled by religious devotion.
The spheres of Greek men and women were deeply segregated, with military training a huge part of men’s lives, while pottery and statues show women doing domestic chores or tending to children. Luxury items abound including jars for precious oils, cosmetics, and hair dyes. And more than 100 coins – the Greeks struck the first true coins – point to another Greek influence we carry around with us everyday in our pockets. Each coin is stamped with a different political or social image, identifying the "polis" where it originated.
The newly-renovated Roman World gallery is the showiest of the three. Reglazed skylights and newly installed fiber optic lighting make the dense but airy exhibit packed with glass, gold, silver, and marble dazzle and shine.
There are monumental objects: Marble sculptures, the head of the goddess Diana, carved stone sarcophogi. There is part of a massive marble arch from Puteoli near Naples, with figures on one side extolling the Emperor Trajan- while an inscription on the other side praising the earlier Emperor Domitian has been chipped off, an act of selective erasure that took following Domitian’s assassination (see photo, page 33).
There are reminders of the Romans’ extensive trade routes, with massive clay amphoras salvaged from Roman shipwrecks by Jacques Cousteau in the 1950s. There is an elaborate model of a Roman house showing the shops that made up the building’s perimeter, while inside were courtyards, bedrooms, and gardens.
There are lengths of the lead pipes the Romans engineered to provide themselves drinking water. And there are everyday items: spectacular glass cone and jar lamps, ivory dice, bone implements, a bronze pair of tweezers.
A collection of Roman rings and jewelry features red jasper, cornelian, and agate, as well as shelves of exquisite votive figures: eagles, bulls, lions, birds, and horses. And a gorgeous lamp stand holds at the ends of its many metal arms hand-sized terracotta lamps, made to burn oil.
Throughout all three galleries, posted text panels help visitors understand the context or importance of different pieces or parts of the display. That packaged information is part and parcel of the current vogue in museum exhibits. Clearly display styles have evolved since the museum mounted its first Etruscan, Greek, and Roman exhibits at the time of its opening in 1899.
At that time, Brownlee explains, museums opted for comprehensive displays, putting out many more objects than they do now, with none of the explanatory aids we’ve now grown accustomed to.
"To the modern museum-goer, displays from the beginning of the last century would seem pretty overwhelming," says Brownlee, who is in her early 50s and earned her PhD in classical archaeology from Harvard. "Why do you need to look at three examples of something when maybe one is enough?" Exhibits then tended to be arranged according to chronology, with pieces grouped according to where they’d originally been excavated.
That approach had changed by the 1920s when the museum mounted a refurbished classical exhibit that included only the most important pieces from its collection, setting up other objects in study rooms for students and scholars. Exhibits mounted in the 1950s were even sparser still.
"There were very few objects out, with the hope that fewer things would entice the visitor to look at them more carefully," she says. This newest exhibit of the museum’s vast classical collection strikes just the right balance: comprehensive as well as visually beguiling, a view of cultural intermingling geared to our modern eye.
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-898-4000. www.museum.upenn.edu. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sundays 1 to 5 p.m. (Closed Mondays, holidays, and summer Sundays.) Admission is $5 for adults, $2.50 for senior citizens and students with ID.
Arts Council of Princeton, 102 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-8777. "Domestic Expectations and Upheavals," a shared show by Anne Elliott and Kim West. West, focusing on vintage ideals of American society, makes functional houseware and photographic images. Elliott uses her computer to manipulate photos and then paints them with acrylic. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To March 5.
Chapin School, 4101 Princeton Pike, 609-924-7206. An exhibit of handmade quits by Princeton resident Laura Hill. A childcare provider for almost 30 years, Hill took her first quilting class when she started in business. She is always on the lookout for fabric and her quilt designs incorporate prints from all over America. Gallery is open by appointment during school hours. To March 12.
Hills Gallery, 195 Nassau Street, 609-252-0909. Exhibition of a private collection that includes signed and numbered lithographs by Picasso, Chagall, and Matisse. Also smaller etchings by Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, and Cassatt. To March 30.
Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "Lost Princeton," an exhibit that explores lost businesses and houses. The historic house also houses a long-term exhibition about Princeton history highlighting the Native American occupation, the Revolutionary War, and Princeton in the 19th and 20th centuries. Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Free admission.
Princeton Jewish Center, 435 Nassau Street, 609-921-0100. Arlene Gale Milgram, recent paintings and prints. A public school art teacher and Ewing resident, Milgram often works on wood blocks using a cold wax and oil paint technique. Open Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Saturdays. To February 28.
Princeton Public Library Cafe, Princeton Shopping Center, North Harrison, 609-924-9529. Pen and ink sketches and watercolor prints by Sergio Bonotto. Scenes of the Princeton area and sketches of Europe during World War II. Cafe hours are Monday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sundays.
University Medical Center at Princeton, 253 Witherspoon Street, 609-497-4000. "Princeton Impressions" by Olga Holroyd features impressionist oil paintings of Princeton including the university and the Delaware-Raritan Canal. She studied at the University of Illinois; her paintings are in private collections in the U.S. To March 24.
Princeton University Art Museum, McCosh 50, 609-258-3788. "The Art of the Print in the Western World," a survey of prints from the museum’s collection by major European and American artists from the Renaissance to the present featuring Goya, Rembrandt, and Picasso; to March 14. Also "Songs, Psalms, and Praises: An 18th-century Ethiopian Manuscript," on exhibit to June 5, 2005. "Robert Adams: From the Missouri West" presents a recently acquired collection of 28 landscape photographs by Robert Adams taken between 1975 and 1978; to June 6. "Imperial Portraits by Van Meytens the Younger and Roslin" features newly acquired portraits of Tsarovich Paul, Maria Feodorovna, and empress Maria Theresa of the Holy Roman Empire, on view to July 11.
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Highlights tours every Saturday at 2 p.m. Free admission.
Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Hall Gallery, 20 Library Place, 609-497-7990. "A Photographic Journey," nature photography by Heinz and Maria Gartlgruber. Open Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. To March 12.
Rider University Art Gallery, Student Center, 2083 Lawrenceville Road, 609-895-5588. "Joseph Fiore: 25 Years of Paintings from Rock Fragments." Gallery hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. To March 28.
Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Route 206, Lawrenceville, 609-252-6275. "Hearing Voices: Personal Narratives," a group exhibition highlighting art as a unifying communications vehicle that transcends cultural difference. Show features works by 16 artists of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Participants include Peter Stanhope Arakawa, Siona Benjamin, Ela Shah, Jorge Gomez, Reinaldo D’Jesus Perez, Colin Chase, Julia Cowing, Simon Gaon, and Ming Fay. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends, 1 to 5 p.m. To April 11.
Bristol-Myers Squibb, Hopewell Campus, 609-252-5120. Outdoor sculpture show features works by seven prominent East Coast artists: Hope Carter of Hopewell, Kate Dodd, Richard Heinrich, John Isherwood, Joel Perlman, John Van Alstine, and Jay Wholley. Exhibition open during business hours and will remain in its location for two years.
The artists were selected by a panel composed of Alejandro Anreus, veteran curator and scholar, Jeffrey Nathanson of the International Sculpture Center, and visual artist Sheba Sharrow, working under the guidance of Kate Somers, curator of the company’s corporate gallery in Lawrenceville.
Artists’ Gallery, 32 Coryell Street, Lambertville, 609-397-4588. The artist-owned and operated gallery celebrates its Ninth Annual Mid-Winter All-Member Exhibition. Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. To February 29.
Atelier Gallery, 108 Harrison Street, Frenchtown, 908-996-9992. "Beyond the Image II, a two person show featuring art by Margaret Kennard Johnson and Barry Snyder. Thursday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To March 27.
Coryell Gallery, 8 Coryell Street, Lambertville, 609-397-0804. The 24th annual juried art exhibition, "Lambertville and the Surrounding Area," co-sponsored by the Lambertville Historical Society and selected by juror Douglas Wiltraut. Among the nine artists awarded cash prizes are Robert Sakson for his watercolor "Union Street," and Marge Chavooshion for "Shadows on Bridge Street." Other prize winners are Colette Sexton, Mike Filipiak, Pamela M. Miller, Michael Budden, Charles Ross, John Ennis, and Christyl Cusworth. Open Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To March 14.
New Hope Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, New Hope, 215-862-3396. The New Hope Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition continues with works by sculptors Christoph Spath, Kate Brockman, Rob Ressler, Dana Stewart, Dan Kainz, and Bob Emser. Host sites include George E. Michael Inc., Union Square, New Hope Solebury Library, the Wedgwood Inn, New Hope Historical Society, Golden Door Gallery, and New Hope Mule Barge. To April 30.
Peggy Lewis Gallery, Lambertville Public Library, 6 Lilly Street, 609-397-0275. "Sunset Park Paintings," an exhibition of abstract compositions by Michael J. Farmer. Gallery hours are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 1 to 9 p.m.; Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday 1 to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To March 26.
Allentown Art and Frame, at the Old Mill, 42 South Main Street, 609-259-3535. Gallery is celebrating its second anniversary by introducing "The Soubor Collection" featuring works by Octavio Ocampo, Nora Motano, Marjara, Luis Ignacio Ortiz, and others, as well as crafts, jewelry, pottery, pre-Colombian replicas, and gifts from Latin America. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, 609-333-8511. "Fan Palms" by Jay Goodkind and "Strength and Sensuality" by Edward Greenblat. Open Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment. To March 21.
Goodkind describes himself as a classic black-and-white photographer whose work reflects the beauty he finds around him, beauty often missed by the casual observers as they hurry through their day. He uses large format cameras and traditional darkroom chemistry. His latest series of studies of the fan palms of the Hawaiian islands records how the fronds are in almost constant motion beneath the variable reflection of the changing light.
Greenblat’s series "Strength and Sensuality" depicts the human body in form and motion. His previous work on dance photography showed the beauty of motion and the joy of dance. In this exhibit, created in collaboration with his model, Greenblat celebrates the sensual strength of a woman dedicated to fitness.
Gourgaud Gallery, Cranbury Town Hall, Schoolhouse Lane, Cranbury, 609-395-0900. An exhibition of surreal paintings by William B. Hogan. Gallery is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sundays noon to 3 p.m. To February 27.
Lawrenceville Inn, 2691 Main Street, Lawrenceville, 609-219-1900. Oils and watercolors by John McDowell Williams. Open every day 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Local Hellenic and Italian-American groups in the Delaware Valley helped raise the $3 million needed to refurbish gallery space for the "Worlds Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans" exhibit. The exhibit – 10 years in the making – opened last spring at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Further funds came from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, along with grants from several foundations. The new display was designed by Staples and Charles Ltd., based in Alexandria, Virginia, while renovations were completed by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Atkin, Olshin, Lawson-Bell and Associates.
But the founding of the museum itself in 1899 involved many names well known in Philadelphia commercial and philanthropic circles. "We got both the department stores," says Ann Blair Brownlee, one of the exhibit’s three co-curators and an adjunct professor of history at University of Pennsylvania, referring to major donations to buy the land and build the museum from both the Strawbridge and Wanamaker families. The eclectic brick building contains Northern Italian Renaissance as well as Asian architectural influences and a rotunda inside a brick-walled courtyard.
When the museum first opened, there was a library named for Elkins and a lecture hall named for Widener, so those families played a role, too, Brownlee explains. Lucy Wharton Drexel was a big contributor, as was Phoebe Hearst (the mother of William Randolph), who – although she wasn’t a Philadelphian – ended up being a major patron of the museum.
The museum itself was a big light in the Philadelphia cultural constellation. "The Philadelphia Museum of Art building didn’t exist until the 1920s," says Brownlee, "so from the beginning, this museum was the city’s really important cultural institution."
– Phyllis Maguire.
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