Skip to navigation – Site map
Dans les musées

The Etruscans and the Mediterranean : The City of Cerveteri

December 5, 2013 to March 10, 2014 — Musée du Louvre-Lens, Lens, France
Jaimee Uhlenbrock

Abstract

On December 5, 2013, an impressive exhibition opened at the Musée du Louvre-Lens, “the other Louvre,” that surely will appeal to anyone interested in terracotta sculpture, as well as to anyone interested in the cultures and civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean. The Etruscans and the Mediterranean : The City of Cerveteri presents a history of the city that is largely based on new results obtained from recent excavations at the site, within which objects from major historical collections are viewed. A product of a collaboration between the Musée du Louvre, the CNR - Istituto di studi sul Mediterraneo Antico, Rome, the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell’Etruria Meridionale, and the Museo Nazionale Cerite, this exhibition comprises many works that have never been seen together that document with extraordinary clarity the changing values and customs of this important Etruscan city over the course of some 500 years. This is the third major exhibition organized by the Musée du Louvre this past year for its satellite museum at Lens in north-eastern France that opened a little more than a year ago, in December 2012. Built over a wasteland that was once home to the coal mining industry of Lens, the Louvre-Lens, a large, modernist structure with minimalist gardens, is expected to help revitalize the economy of the area that entered a depression with the collapse of the coal mining industry of France in the mid-20th century. An installation over the exit doors of the museum of large, vintage photographs of coal miners presented in a continuous loop is a touching reminder of the difficult and dangerous occupations that sustained this region of France for more than 150 years. Nor can one ignore the enormous pyramids of coal wasters that can be seen from the large windows of the museum that now have the status of national monuments.

Top of page

Index terms

Top of page

Full text

1The design of the Temporary Exhibition Gallery that houses The Etruscans and the Mediterranean is most appropriate for an exhibition of this type. The installation benefits greatly from the large and airy rooms (Fig. 1), where the works are displayed in ample environments, in many instances allowing visitors to view them in-the-round. Even when objects are presented within glass cases the installation never appears crowded or poorly conceived. Wall and text panels, as well as object labels, are written in French, English, and Dutch, to insure that the exhibition is intelligible to the broadest constituency possible.

Fig. 1 — Detail of a room in the exhibition.

Fig. 1 — Detail of a room in the exhibition.

2While The Etruscans and the Mediterranean presents a broad spectrum of Etruscan art of all types and in all media, I was most interested in the terracotta sculpture, being aware of the singularly strong coroplastic tradition that is so compelling a feature of Etruscan art. And the works in this category do not disappoint. Well-known terracotta sculptures, such as the Sarcophagus of the Spouses from the Louvre and the seated figures from the Tomb of the Five Chairs are interspersed with other, lesser known, terracotta sculptures and figurines, terracotta architectural sculpture, monumental cinerary urns, highly decorated bronzes, Greek vases, and intricate jewelry, all documenting the history of the city from its origins to the Roman conquest.

3As is to be expected, the Etruscan artisan’s appreciation of the plastic medium of clay is superbly illustrated by a series of Hellenistic votive heads from the Manganello Sanctuary (Fig. 2) that not only reflect the spontaneity of the artisan’s hand, but also reveal a keenly observant eye. Silent participants in this exhibition, they nevertheless appear to breathe, so compellingly lifelike are they.

Fig. 2 — Series of Hellenistic votive heads

Fig. 2 — Series of Hellenistic votive heads

4The lively surfaces that animate the fleshy parts of the face of the head of a man from the Manganello Sanctuary are complemented by the sketchy, seemingly hasty, treatment of the hair that imparts a remarkable immediacy to this head. This is in striking contrast to the treatment of the head in the bust of a woman and the head of a child in the same case, both of which reveal a more studied and deliberate approach. Yet these too appear highly personalized, a distinctive feature of Etruscan portraiture that was carried over into Roman terracotta sculpture of the Late Republican period.

5Other terracottas in the exhibition are not as arresting as the Manganello heads, but still are of considerable interest for the idiosyncratic style or iconography they present. Characteristic in this regard is a small, late Hellenistic figurine of a woman, possibly a goddess, from the recently-excavated Tomb of the Votive Heads (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 — Late Hellenistic figurine of a woman

Fig. 3 — Late Hellenistic figurine of a woman

6Even though it is mold made, it nevertheless still has something of the freshness of the Manganello male head in its asymmetry and use of retouch. The strong turn of the head and twist of the body animates the figure and raises it out of the level of the mundane. Another mold-made terracotta of interest is a votive head of a woman (Fig. 4), also from the Tomb of the Votive Heads. This is a more generic terracotta type that shows a woman with idealized features adorned with heavy jewelry and an elaborate hairstyle that eloquently speak of status. This particular terracotta type is characteristic of Cerveteri and has not been documented elsewhere.

Fig. 4 — A votive head of a woman

Fig. 4 — A votive head of a woman

7From the Archaic period come several terracotta cinerary urns that are displayed together with the well-known Sarcophagus of the Spouses from the Louvre, all of which were found in the mid-19th century in the Banditaccia necropolis of Cerveteri. The examples shown here (Figs. 5 and 6) are much more modest in size and conception than the well-known example, but they reflect the range of variation that was in vogue during the late Archaic period, as well as the strong influence of the East Greek artistic canon.

Figs. 5 and 6 — Sarcophagus

Figs. 5 and 6 — Sarcophagus

8Terracotta architectural sculpture is also well represented in the exhibition with, among other things, three Archaic antefixes, of which one is illustrated here (Fig. 7), an impressive Archaic pedimental composition made up of warriors, an akroterion, and sections of terracotta revetment, most still preserving the lively colors that are so characteristic of Etruscan architectural terracottas. The antefixes, dated to the first years of the 5th century B.C., present a female head adorned with a high stephane and large disk earrings. While Ionian influence is evident in the full, fleshy face and in the decorative elaboration of the surfaces, an Attic imprint may also be detected in the high forehead, the more prominent cheekbones, and the large eyes.

Fig. 7 — Archaic antefixes

Fig. 7 — Archaic antefixes

9Many more terracotta sculptures in this exhibition are deserving of discussion, but cannot be detailed in a note as brief as this. Suffice it to say that a visit to The Etruscans and the Mediterranean : The City of Cerveteri is most highly recommended. For those in living or visiting Rome the exhibition can be seen at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, from April 14 to July 20, 2014.

Top of page

List of illustrations

Title Fig. 1 — Detail of a room in the exhibition.
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/468/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 228k
Title Fig. 2 — Series of Hellenistic votive heads
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/468/img-2.jpg
File image/jpeg, 204k
Title Fig. 3 — Late Hellenistic figurine of a woman
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/468/img-3.jpg
File image/jpeg, 176k
Title Fig. 4 — A votive head of a woman
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/468/img-4.jpg
File image/jpeg, 284k
Title Figs. 5 and 6 — Sarcophagus
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/468/img-5.jpg
File image/jpeg, 468k
Title Fig. 7 — Archaic antefixes
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/468/img-6.jpg
File image/jpeg, 341k
Top of page

References

Electronic reference

Jaimee Uhlenbrock, « The Etruscans and the Mediterranean : The City of Cerveteri », Les Carnets de l’ACoSt [Online], 11 | 2014, Online since 13 July 2015, connection on 23 August 2017. URL : http://acost.revues.org/468

Top of page

About the author

Jaimee Uhlenbrock

Department of Art History State University of New York, New Paltz

By this author

Top of page

Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Les Carnets de l'ACoSt est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Top of page
  • Logo Association for Coroplastic Studies
  • Les cahiers de Revues.org