Etruscan Bronze Cuirass

Etruscan Bronze Cuirass

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Catalogue of the Etruscan Gallery of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Jean MacIntosh Turfa’s substantial catalogue is divided into two parts. Part 1A comprises eight informative and reader-friendly introductory chapters on the history and archaeology, language and culture of Etruria and the neighbouring Faliscan territory, using choice objects from the collection to illustrate the various themes (1-59). The chapters follow a chronological sequence, starting with the Villanovan period and early Etruscans and finishing with the disappearance of Etruscan culture and language in the first century BC. Turfa takes the reader through the early history of the Faliscans with emphasis on the Narce tomb groups, particularly that of the Narce Warrior (tomb 43) with its spectacular and unique ‘poncho’ cuirass of hammered bronze (no. 45) considers Etruscan and other Italic languages and writing and progresses through Near Eastern and Hellenic influences. Her treatment of warfare, trade, and technology is balanced by attention to the role of the family and women while votive religion (with interesting sections on the use of anatomical votives and votives as substitutes for live sacrifices) and funerary practices complete the picture. All in all, this part of the catalogue forms an excellent introduction to almost every aspect of Etruscan life. The chapters follow the order of the displays in the gallery and so also serve as a guidebook.

Part 1B gathers the documentary evidence for those tomb groups represented in the gallery (61-68), while Part 2 is the actual catalogue of 324 objects, ranging from humble beads to spectacular bronze- and gold-work (81-288). A full bibliography, concordances (provenance, attributions to vase painters, sources from private collections, inscriptions, accession numbers with catalogue numbers), and a thorough index complete the contents (289-329).

It would be impossible to comment on every object in the catalogue, but a selection of a few objects will highlight its many strengths.

The benefits of Turfa’s close, indeed minute, inspection of the objects are evident in her discussion of no. 109, a late fourth century BC Jockey-type (or Montefortino) helmet. This bronze helmet is already an object of great interest as an early example of the type and because of the nail hole in the bowl, punctured from the inside out, indicating it was once part of a trophy or, more likely, nailed to the wall of a tomb, but Turfa also notices a partial fingerprint on the brim of the helmet, surviving from its original wax casting mould. (The lost wax method of casting is usefully described on p. 9.) Those with an interest in Roman military equipment studies should take note of this clear evidence for the casting of Montefortino helmets, a production method strenuously denied by H. Russell Robinson, who insisted the helmets were always hammered from sheet bronze. 1

The crest knob (usually with rosette decoration) of this helmet was broken off in antiquity, and the bowl is cracked. Turfa suggests that this damage may be better explained as deliberate destruction during a funerary ritual rather than the result of combat. Other objects in the collection show signs of ritual destruction, for example no. 256, a fine fourth century hand-mirror engraved with a scene depicting Herakles/Hercle and a satyr, was deliberately bent in half. Turfa’s commentary neatly summarises the evidence for the act of ritual destruction or marking as part of the Etruscan funerary cult (cf. commentary to no. 214, a seventh-to-sixth century BC bronze basin from Narce).

Another helmet (no. 108), a distinctive early sixth century BC Picene ‘pot’ helmet with hemispherical side-bosses, receives similarly meticulous treatment. In her commentary Turfa devotes much space to an in-depth discussion of the development of this helmet type, considers the defensive function of the lead-filled bosses and additional protection afforded by organic liners, discusses the find circumstances of other notable examples, and suggests that another helmet in the British Museum might have been made by the same smith. She also provides a systematic description of the production of the component parts of the helmet — it was beaten from bronze sheet rather than cast — as well as noticing signs of ritual damage. In the introduction (28) she emphasises the influence of the wares of Picene armourers on the Etruscans and the development of the Negau helmet (no. 233 is a fine example, perhaps manufactured in Vulci). It is notable that Turfa’s discussion of the Picene and Negau helmets is probably the only thing readily available in English in a field dominated by German and Italian studies. 2 Turfa’s catalogue also doubles as a work of synthesis and will be much welcomed by those who struggle with Italian, German and French.

There is a welcome emphasis on practical craft and technology throughout the catalogue. The lost wax method of casting has already been mentioned, and bronze- and gold-working methods are described (41). One of the most spectacular examples of the goldsmith’s art is also one of the tiniest. No. 225, a miniature bird formed from two stamped sheets of gold and decorated with gold granules, dates from the seventh century BC and is said to have come from Caere, where it might also have been produced. The amount of detail in this tiny object, barely 1 cm in height and length, is extraordinary and makes one wonder at the splendour of the larger object it presumably decorated. The value of less spectacular metal goods, especially of bronze (10), is stressed by their long use and repair, e.g. the later eighth century BC situla (no. 14) or a lunate razor (no. 48).

Ceramic objects form a considerable part of the collection. Turfa concedes that “the study of pottery is a very large discipline and cannot be treated fully here” (39), but her introduction to impasto, bucchero and painted wares imitating Attic and Corinthian imports (38-40) is more than adequate, and the discussion of individual objects fills out the picture. No. 213, an Etruscan Black Figure amphora of about 500-480 BC from Orvieto (Volsinii) highlights the strengths of Turfa’s approach. As usual, Turfa goes beyond a simple description of a pot with an ill-fitting lid and hasty decoration, to discuss other objects from the same workshop and how they demonstrate a hunger in Etruria for imitation Greek vases, whatever their quality. Much finer pottery is thickly spread through the collection, but Turfa is keen to stress the importance of the more mundane and the historical information that can be extracted from it.

The only criticism the reviewer has of this fine catalogue concerns the reproduction of the photographs of objects in Part 2. Many are reproduced so darkly that details are impossible to discern, but this is hardly the fault of the author and may be a problem limited to this print run or just this particular copy. However, objects such as the engraved hand-mirrors (nos 250, 252-254, 256) are accompanied by helpful line drawings of the engraved scenes (no. 250 is particularly notable, showing a scene derived from the Orestes myth which suggests Etruscan sacrificial procedure, cf. p. 46). Also, clearer photographs, showing many of the objects from different angles, can be found in the introductory chapters and excellent section of colour plates.

As well as the objects and themes discussed above, Turfa tackles the architecture of Etruscan temples and their decoration with terracotta reliefs with gusto — the colour plates particularly highlight the numerous colourful archaic antefixes. Stonework is given the same thorough treatment as the metalwork focussed on above: no. 229, a mid-sixth century BC winged lion, probably the work of a sculptor from Vulci, is particularly notable and, in fact, is featured on the dust jacket. This is so much more than the average museum catalogue. It is a thorough introduction to the Etruscans and their neighbours, a major body of original research and, as an additional benefit, can be used as a work of synthesis. It is an essential addition to the library of anyone with an interest in ancient Italy.

1. H. Russell Robinson, The Armour of Imperial Rome (London 1975), 13, and followed by M.C. Bishop & J.C.N. Coulston, Roman Military Equipment (London 1993), 60.

2. A notable exception, though necessarily general in nature, is Peter Connolly’s Greece and Rome at War (London, rev. ed. 1998), 104.

About Etruscan warfare

There is a lot to say about Etruscan civilization, although it's off-topic. It was brillant, free, and by many aspects recalled the Greeks, but with very specific traits. It's no wonder why Greek warfare was adopted, with local variants, although the Etruscans developed about 900 BCE (Iron Age Villanovan culture). While themselves called their culture originated from Rasna, the classic Greeks called them Tyrrhenians, and an association was made by a few authors with the Teresh (Sea Peoples), but it's wildly contested. Etruscans had no original texts of religion or philosophy, therefore most evidences were found in tombs. In almost none of them were found depiction of ancient Etruscan warriors. Nowodays studies showed this people was autochthonous in central Italy however, and it's well possible that its culture was influenced by Halstatt culture too. Before the bronze sword became more popular with elites, the typical villanovian warrior had a conical helmet, a spear and javelins, a dagger, and an axe. Much later, probably under Greek influence in the south appeared the classical hoplite (pic).

In addition to a round shield, a thorax plate and a typical pot helmet with a metal crest seemed to have been the rule, while noble warriors tend to have a fully metallic "plastron" or bust protection which was lighter than the classic breastplate, and were found. The scutum made also its apparition. This gear was close to the one Venetians and Ligurian used, as well as early Celts. There is one Candelabrum bronze statuette from Vetulonia (now Florence) showing a warrior with an aspis-like shield with circles as decoration, more robust than the famous Etruscan parade shield (Circolo del tritone), strapped on his back. He is wielding a mace and his helmet is of the familiar old calotte "crested style", similar to the Ligurians. The 20 cm pectoral breastplate was rectangular and about 20 cm with recurving sides.

Examining Etruscan Culture after Scenes Found in Restored Paintings

Etruscans expertly used the natural resources available to them in creating their highly skilled works of art. Photo By Timur Kulgarin / Shutterstock

The Etruscans contributed more to Mediterranean culture than most people realize, such as transporting Greek culture to the West and having once ruled over almost all of Italy. They founded what would become Rome, Pisa, and Pompeii, before eventually being turned back by an expanding Roman populace.

Recently, some of their paintings, which had been worn down over thousands of years, were restored using a new extrapolation technique that processes images taken of various light waves along the spectrum. The paintings revealed subjects and scenes not viewed for thousands of years.

Paintings weren’t the Etruscans’ only contribution to culture though. In his video series The Mysterious Etruscans, Dr. Steven L. Tuck, Professor of Classics at Miami University, said the Etruscans were also accomplished potters, jewelers, and sculptors.

Working with What You’ve Got

Dr. Tuck said that much of the Etruscans’ successful endeavors in art depended upon their ability to use the natural resources around them, including minerals in the Etruscan heartland.

“The Etruscans were superb at exploiting these resources, and it’s very possible that they divided the territory of their city-states, at least partially, based on mineral resources,” Dr. Tuck said. “The Etruscans were experienced and skilled metalworkers, with a long history of bronze work, particularly.”

Dr. Tuck said that the city of Orvieto, which stood in modern-day Umbria, was known for the scale and quality of its bronze workshops, and that when the Romans captured Orvieto in 264 BCE, they took with them some 2,000 bronze statues. Before this, in the 5th century BCE, Etruscan metallurgy was so highly regarded that bronze objects like tripods, candelabra, and containers were desired in the most upper-class Greek homes.

“The most common technique for creating objects was casting,” he said. “The Etruscans used both direct casting, that is pouring molten metal into a mold, and and lost wax casting, during which a wax model of the final form is encased in a mold, which is heated to remove the wax, so it can be replaced with molten metal.”

He Went to Etruria

Etruscan artisans also excelled in using precious metals, especially in their jewelry.

“Their jewelry shows the most advanced metallurgical techniques found in the ancient Mediterranean,” Dr. Tuck said. “I’m not a jeweler, but I’ve read that [it] cannot be duplicated even today, notably their granulation work. Granulation is a technique in which a surface area of an artwork is covered in granules, or small spheres, of precious metal, which are then fused to the background material to create patterns.”

He said that one of the most intriguing elements of terra-cotta and metalworking is where the two intersect. This is often seen in material known as “skeuomorphism,” which Dr. Tuck defined as “the manufacture of works in one material designed to evoke the appearance of works made in another.” It’s most commonly seen in seen in Etruscan vessels in which terra-cotta substitutes for more expensive metals like bronze, silver, or gold.

But how do we find metal based on ceramics where no parallel works survive?

“The answer is from metal shapes and workmanship in terra-cotta,” Dr. Tuck said. “Fluting, engraving, divisions of shape, decoration, solid handles versus hollow feet, and fake rivet heads. Not all of these features are necessary for a pot, but preserve the original in metal transferred to a terra-cotta object—generally, vases.”

By using techniques like skeuomorphism and granulation, the Etruscans developed a signature style for their culture.

Multiple warriors have used the Cuirass in the show, the Spartan was the first. In the second and third season's Alexander the Great and Hannibal were both given cuirass. The effectiveness of the cuirass's ability to stop bladed weapon is show multiple times, both the Ninja's Kusarigama and Genghis Khan's saber failed to cause injury through the curiass.

However, in the show most pieces of armor claimed to be bronze, appear to look more like brass. This is a common practice in modern reproductions of bronze armor, brass being much cheaper than bronze.

Highlighted Objects

Bronze Crested Helmet

Around 700 BCE, a warrior was buried in a tomb at Narce, in central Italy, with his weapons and armor, vases, razors, and horse fittings. He was Faliscan—of a people of Italic origin who were neighbors and allies of the Etruscans. Hiscrested bronze helmet of Etruscan design proclaims him a member of the ruling class, and his poncho-cuirass is one of a kind. A pair of bronze bits symbolize his special status as owner of a chariot, although his horses were too valuable to sacrifice.

Etruscan Antefix

This terracotta sculpture of a female head would have been attached to the roof tiles of an Etruscan temple ofthe 4th century BCE. Etruscan architecture in wood and unfired brick perfected the design and decoration of the tiled roof, borrowed from GreekCorinth and later adopted by the Romans.

Cinerary Chest

Rare Etruscan writing can be seen in the inscription of this alabaster urnof the 3rd century BCE, from the region of Chiusi, wherethe Etruscans cremated their dead and deposited the ashes in urns like this one.“Arnth Remzna son of Arnth” is shown wearing the spiked hat of a haruspex, a priest skilled in interpreting the livers of sacrificial animals.

Advanced Pre-Excavation Preservation Procedures

With no written records, archaeologists only know the broad strokes about Etruscan culture : that they had originated in Tuscany during the Bronze Age around 900 BC and that after a gradual decline, the last Etruscan cities were absorbed by Rome around 100 BC. But now, according to an article in, Leandri said the tomb will help his team of scholars “better understand the decline of Etruscan cities.”

Among the more spectacular grave goods discovered in the tomb were two perfume vases, known formally as alabastrons, which were found lying on the feet of the buried woman. A collection of small black-varnished goblets, two damaged “ bronze mirrors ” and a dozen drinking goblets of different shapes and sizes were discovered aligned along the sides of the woman’s body.

But before even a grain of dust was removed from the site, after the initial discovery this exceptionally-well preserved tomb, a Bible of equally exceptional preservation measures were designed for digging out the fragile ceramics.

View of oenochoes (jugs) in situ showing Etrurian produced paintings dating from the 4th cent. BC
(Image: Roland Haurillon,

Press Release


The object will go on display in the newly reinstalled Getty Villa

Appliqué depicting the Sun God Usil, Etruscan,

500 - 475 B.C. Italy, made in Vulci. Bronze.

H: 20 cm (7 7/8 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum,

Villa Collection, Malibu, California

LOS ANGELES – The J. Paul Getty Museum announced today the acquisition of an early 5 th -century B.C. bronze appliqué depicting the Etruscan Sun God Usil.

“This bronze appliqué that probably decorated an Etruscan chariot or funeral cart is of exceptional quality, representing the peak period of an artistic milieu in which Greek and Italic aesthetics merged to create a distinctively Etruscan style,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Bronze statuettes and reliefs are a particular strength of the Getty’s collection of Etruscan art and the Usil appliqué’s rarity and quality will assure it a significant presence in the newly reinstalled gallery at the Villa dedicated to this fascinating culture.”

The appliqué represents the solar deity Usil (the equivalent of the Greek god Helios and Roman god Sol), who stands with spread wings and dramatically splayed fingers. A nimbus of rays surrounds the head of the god, who wears a diadem, necklace, and a mantle over his shoulders. At the thighs, the figure merges into a broad plate decorated with undulating lines, suggesting the sea from which the sun emerges at daybreak and sinks at dusk.

Ornamental reliefs such as this functioned as fittings on funeral carts and chariots, which often accompanied the burials of Etruria’s equestrian elite. Probably affixed to the sides of the vehicle, the winged god reflects the imagery of a celestial divinity driving the chariot of the sun across the sky, which was common in Greek and later Etruscan art. The earliest Usil plaque, in the Vatican Museums, was reportedly found at Roma Vecchia between 1760 and 1775 and was illustrated by Francesco Piranesi in 1778. In 1845, four similar plaques were discovered in the Tomb of the Quadriga at Vulci, which preserved the skeletons of horses. Among the appliqués held in the National Etruscan Museum of the Villa Giulia in Rome, the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, and other museums, some may belong to that burial. Of that group, the Getty’s Usil appliqué is the best surviving example. Although displaying slight variations in size, facial features, form of the plate, and position of the rivets, all are associated with a preeminent bronze-casting workshop in Vulci.

This newest acquisition will go on display in the reinstalled Getty Villa when it opens in April 2018, and will join several related Etruscan bronzes, including a vessel foot depicting Usil in winged boots running over the crests of waves and a lion head attachment with glass paste eyes, which likely capped the end of a chariot pole. A pair of candelabra with finials of a youth dancing and playing castanets is also attributed to a Vulcian workshop, which produced fine metalware for an international Mediterranean clientele.

The appliqué was acquired in the 1920s in Monte Carlo by Sylvie Bonneau-Arfa (b. about 1907), née Fatma-Enayet Arfa, the daughter of the Persian ambassador to the Russian court. In 1970 the appliqué went up for auction but failed to sell and was returned to the family. It had been brought to the attention of the Swiss archaeologist Hans Jucker in 1968, and was subsequently on loan to the Historisches Museum in Bern, Switzerland during the 1970s. The Getty acquired it at auction from the descendants of Ms. Bonneau-Arfa.

“This wonderful addition to the collection alongside the related objects in the new Etruscan gallery will introduce visitors to the art of Etruscan bronze sculpture, the significance of celestial divinities in Etruscan religion, elite burial practices, and the impressive parade armor of ancient Italy,” says Jeffrey Spier, senior curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades.

The J. Paul Getty Museum collects Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture and decorative arts to 1900, as well as photographs from around the world to the present day. The Museum&rsquos mission is to display and interpret its collections, and present important loan exhibitions and publications for the enjoyment and education of visitors locally and internationally. This is supported by an active program of research, conservation, and public programs that seek to deepen our knowledge of and connection to works of art.

Cuirass bodice

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection features many dresses with cuirass bodices of one from the 1870s (Fig. 1), the V&A writes:

“This ensemble characterises fashionable evening wear for women in the late 1870s. The elbow-length sleeves and square neckline show that it was probably a dinner dress rather than ball gown. Tiers of machine-made lace adorn the skirt and bodice an overskirt of satin swathes the front of the dress. The bodice extends into a point below the waistline in front and back. This was a new style, known as a ‘cuirasse’ bodice, which appeared in fashion magazines about 1875 and remained fashionable through the 1880s.”

Penelope Byrde in Nineteenth-Century Fashion (1992) describes the cuirass bodice and the origins of its name:

“The cuirass bodice did indeed have the appearance of the piece of armour. Its tight fit was achieved by cutting it with five seams at the back, from the top of the shoulder and slanting towards the waist, while the darts in front were short and close together. The bodice was well boned on the inside to ensure a perfectly straight, smooth line which would not wrinkle or crease and it was sometime laced at the back to create an even better effect.” (72)

Two dresses in the Met’s collection from 1878 and 1879 (Figs. 2, 4) give an idea of the effect and the close fit achieved. Daniel Delis Hill’s History of World Costume and Fashion (2011) describes the key silhouette of the 1870s:

“One of the key design elements of the tight, vertical silhouette was cuirass bodice, formed by a sheath-like construction that fitted tightly and extended over the hips. To ensure smooth, long line of the bodice or jacket, decoration treatments were less pronounced than previously, even on evening gowns.” (505)

This emphasis on silhouette over decoration is particularly evident in fashion plates depicting the cuirass bodice, as in an 1878 Journal des demoiselles plate (Fig. 3) or a Peterson’s Magazine 1879 composite fashion plate (Fig. 5 – which notably includes the left-hand figure in the Journal des demoiselles plate). As the armor-inspired name suggests, the cuirass bodice is part of the 1870s incorporation of a strong menswear/tailoring influence on womenswear.

Fig. 1 - Designer unknown (United Kingdom). Evening dress, 1876-1878. Silk satin, silk ribbon, machine-made lace, cotton, whalebone. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, T.130&A-1958. Given by Mrs Thérèse Horner. Source: V&A

Fig. 2 - Designer unknown (American, 1878). Wedding Ensemble, 1878. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.18a, b. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009 Gift of Genevieve Doherty in memory of Mrs. John Henry, 1964. Source: The Met

Fig. 3 - Artist unknown (French). Journal des demoiselles, 1878. Source: Pinterest

Fig. 4 - Designer unknown (American). Wedding dress, 1879. Silk. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.3017. Gift of Mrs. Thomas W. Hotchkiss, 1939. Source: The Met

Fig. 5 - Artist unknown. A Spring Morning Walk, Peterson's Magazine, April 1879. Source: Vestuario Escenico

Etruscan Jewelry

The Spread of Etruscan Style and Civilisation.

Etruscan jewelry can be roughly divided into two periods: Early Etruscan and Late Etruscan. From the 7th century BC until the 5th the civilisation came to its full glory. The best pieces of jewelry come from these times. Early Etruscan jewelry is characterized by its abundance, high skills of the makers and it’s variety. The Etruscans loved color faience, colored gemstones and glass beads are therefore often decorating their work. A certain amount of Greek influence is to be recognized, such as an increased use of filigree and enameling after the 7th century BC.

Gold was scarce to the Etruscans and this is expressed by the lightness and precision workmanship on an incredible minute scale. Much of the sheet gold used is less than 0,1 mm thick. Where thicker rods were needed, sheet gold would be rolled up to form hollow tubes. Gold wire was used in filigree, the most typical being the spiral beaded wire that was made by rolling a knife-edge over a smooth wire causing a screw-thread like decorative wire to be produced. The most famous technique of the Etruscans is their perfect granulation that was applied without any solder.

After 400BC foreign forces started to nibble on the Etruscan world. Celts from the north were attacking the northern cities, Italics were doing the same in the south. The political and economic position of the Etruscans deteriorated. A situation that was reflected in their jewelry: flimsy sheet gold pieces with simple embossing replaced the fabulous jewelry from the first period. Granulation and filigree were used only occasionally. Eventually, the Etruscan civilisation was absorbed by the upcoming Roman civilisation.