Posts Tagged With: museums

Etruscan Art and Architecture

web_DrawingEtruscanTempleEtruscan artwork and architecture exists in plenty in some areas and in others it’s only been recorded and described by others. From the foundations that remain and the writings of Vitruvius, we have some idea of what a typical Etruscan temple looked like. Located at the center of an orthogonal planned city, Etruscan’s constructed temples from the resources available, in this case mud brick and a volcanic stone called tufa. The square structure was raised on a podium, with equal space being designated for a covered porch and the interior rooms or cellas. Wooden columns in the Tuscan order were positioned at the front and the temple was accessible by a single staircase.

04apollodescIn place of the elaborate entablatures Greek Temples were famous for, terra-cotta statues lined the tiled roof, like this statue of Apollo dating from 510-500 BCE. Originally part of a group, the life-size Apollo includes a lively amount of motion and the “archaic smile” that is similar but somewhat more advanced than the Greek kouroi. As far as the chronology and progression of art history, the Etruscan’s present a more naturalized depiction of the human form even if the proportion inaccuracies would have had the Greeks in an uproar. The hint of motion and the visible spark of life is characteristic of Etruscan sculpture.

300px-Banditaccia_Sarcofago_Degli_SposiCounter intuitive though it may seem, tombs are also an important window into Etruscan culture. At Cerveteri, the cemetery is laid out like a small town and the tombs themselves like houses of the dead. Inside the “Tomb of the Reliefs” you can see it was set up to closely resemble a house. The walls are painted and couches were carved from stone. There are everyday household items carved into the walls. The most well known sarcophagus from Cerveteri is the “Sarcophagus of the Spouses” from 520 BCE. Now located in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco in Rome, the terra-cotta sarcophagus shows a husband and wife reclining together on a couch. Again the Etruscans favor depiction of humans with archaic smiles and the appearance of expressions, rather than the classical straight face. Details from their hair and clothes leave use with some idea of contemporary culture.

697px-Chimera_d'arezzo,_fi,_03Bronze sculptures encompass some of the finest pieces we have from the Etruscans. Their skill with bronze made the products marketable around the Mediterranean and the pieces they kept at home are of amazing quality. While their Greek counterparts were concerned with idealized perfection, Etruscan artists seem at ease with inaccuracies and care more about the emotion they seek to communicate in their artwork. That emotion comes through clearly in the bronzes we have in a variety of styles. The bronze Chimera of Arezzo is one example of Etruscan bronze work. The mythical chimera was part lion, goat and serpent, a deadly fire breathing creature that was a popular subject in early Italian art. This depiction, however, shows the typical Etruscan flair for life and movement in their sculptures. The Chimera of Arezzo is now kept in the National Archaeological Museum in Florence.

brutus_exhibition_pageTwo pieces that visitors to Rome are likely to come across is a bronze bust known as the “Capitoline Brutus” and a bronze She-wolf known as the “Capitoline Wolf.” It’s not surprising that these pieces are both found in the Capitoline Museum. The bust is believed to be a portrait of the famous hero Lucius Junius Brutus, the early republican character from the Rape of Lucretia. Despite the bust being from the mid-3rd century BCE, the strong verism in the features make it easy to believe that this is indeed the face of Roman legends. The eyes are made of painted ivory. The Capitoline Brutus is one of the oldest surviving portraits from antiquity, it’s existence is made even more remarkable because bronze was often melted down.

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The Etruscans


As a powerful culture that predates the Romans and would eventually influence their younger neighbors in many ways, the Etruscans are an interesting introduction into the culture and foundation of Rome.

The historical record surrounding the Etruscans begins in 1200 BCE, when a Bronze Age people known as the Villanovans occupied the northwest region of Italy. The Etruscans would become the predominate group and by the 7th century BCE would control the region known as Etruria (Tuscany), located to the north of Rome on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Etruria was rich in metals such as copper, iron and tin, creating a culture of smiths suited to working with bronze. Combined with fertile soil and forests, Etruscans were able to expand their network across the Mediterranean

493px-Etruscan_civilization_mapEvidence exists of the Etruscans trading with the people of Greece, Egypt and Phoenicia. Their skill with bronze fueled a market for reliefs, statues, vessels and jewelry. No literary documents have survived, but records from trading partners like Greece and Egypt have enabled historians to piece together some knowledge of Etruscan history. Further information has been assembled by archaeologists excavating tombs and urban remains. Despite the lack of written documents the archaeological evidence paints a picture of a surprising advanced society, wealthy, with a lavish lifestyle, and a capable naval presence.


Sarcophagus of the Spouses, National Etruscan Museum, Rome. Late 6th century BCE

The Etruscan’s existed in a loose confederation of tribes, similar to the Greek polis, led perhaps by kings or chiefs in the major cities of Veii, Tarquinia and Cerveteri. Society was divided along class lines into the aristocracy and lower classes. Etruscan women enjoyed a rare amount of status, even for Roman women and especially for Greek women. They were educated, and even participated in public life as demonstrated in this sarcophagus. Here, a husband and wife recline on a couch, the man supposedly holding a drink as if at a party.


Apollo of Veii, 510-500 BCE

The Etruscan’s influence on Roman culture materialized in many ways including religion, architecture and government. Ancient sources have specifically credited the Etruscans with passing on the skill of divination to the Romans. Divination would include interpreting the will of the gods from the flight of birds, entrails of a sacrificed animal, or events in the sky.

Architecturally, the Etruscan style temple employed the post and lintel system to support mud-brick walls and a wooden roof. Vitruvius uses the term Tuscan order to define the variation of column that Etruscan’s preferred. Similar to the well known doric order, the Etruscan version used an unfluted shaft and simplified bases and capitals. The layout of an Etruscan temple was almost equally divided between a covered porch and the interior cella or room. The temple was built high on a podium  and was reached by a single staircase to signify the humility of the worshiper. The roof line of Etruscan temples appear to have been decorated with large terra-cotta statues of the gods like this example of Apollo. Romans would later take elements from both Greek and Etruscan temples to create their own hybrid.

The Etruscan’s political power arguably peaked during the Period of Kings, when three Etruscans ruled Rome in succession. They brought with them advances in engineering and urban planning, allies and trading opportunities. Roman society was also divided into classes along economic lines. For a short time Rome was a possession of Etruscan rulers. But by the 6th century BCE, the last king Tarquinius Superbus would be chased from Rome and a republic formed in his place. Rome did not defeat the Etruscans militarily overnight, as Rome was only a small part of their territory. But after two centuries of conflicts Etruria was assimilated into Roman culture.

Today, visitors can see these and many other Etruscan artifacts in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco, located at the northwest corner of Borghese Park. It’s a wonderful museum and one of the least visited in Rome. Housed in the Villa Giulia, the villa was originally built by Pope Julius III to showcase his collection of antiquities. The museum’s website appears to be only offered in Italian but follow this link for “Informazioni” where tickets appear to be eight euro and operating hours are from 8:30-7:30.

To read about the founding of Rome, click here.

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Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel

The homestretch of your visit to the Vatican Museum, and one of the most famous masterpieces in the world. This wing of the museum includes works by some of the greatest painters on your way to the Capella Sistina. This winding path takes some time and if the summertime crowds are present it may take even longer. Take a short break perhaps and if you’re traveling with kids make sure nobody needs to use the restroom.


Gallery of Maps and Tapestries

Longer than a football field the Gallery of Maps and Tapestries covers the distance between the main body of the Museum and the Apostolic Palace and St. Peter’s Basilica. To find it on a map will help you to better keep your bearings. Hung on the walls are forty maps completed by Ignazio Danti and commissioned in 1580 by Pope Gregory XIII. They act as a walking tour of Italian history. Just beyond, is the Gallery of Tapestries, a collection of tapestries from the 15th and 17th centuries.


Room of Constantine

Intended for use as a reception hall, the room is decorated with four events from the life of Constantine including, Vision of the Cross, Battle at Milvian Bridge, Baptism of Constantine and the Donation of Rome. Though this room was planned by Pope Julius II and Raphael it was not executed and completed before the two had died.


Raphael Rooms

Comprised of four stanzas (rooms) the Raphael Rooms were commissioned in 1508/1509 by Pope Julius II. Having secured the services of both Michelangelo and Raphael just down the hall from each other Julius set about decorating his papal apartments with the greatest of the High Renaissance. Although there are many individual pieces throughout the rooms that detail specific moments from the history of the papacy as well as theological iconography a few of the ones that shouldn’t be missed are Parnassus, Fire in the Borgo, Liberation of St. Peter, and the School of Athens seen above.


Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel was restored between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV from whom the Chapel is named. He recruited Renaissance greats such as Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Roselli to decorate the walls. His nephew Pope Julius II entrusted Michelangelo with the ceiling and lunettes in 1508. Michelangelo returned again in 1533 at the behest of Clement VII to paint the Last Judgement on the altar wall. Despite being one of the world’s most famous tourist sites, the Chapel is still very important in the Catholic Church. This is where the Cardinal’s meet during conclave to elect the next Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter. Most won’t need directions to the ceiling and Last Judgement but if you can, find Perugino’s Handing over of the Keys and Botticelli’s Punishment of Korah.

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The Vatican Museum – Musei Vaticani

Alright, the Vatican Museums, a roll up your sleeves endeavor to visit or write about. It’s the mother of all museums in Rome and certainly one of the preeminent museums in Europe. According to Wikipedia it cracked the 5 million visitors a year mark in 2011. The Museum houses many, many of the world’s finest and most valuable pieces and visiting is a modern day pilgrimage for many tourists around the world.

Vatican Museums

Vatican Museums. Photo courtesy of Forbes.

For such a heavy weight, the Museum finds it origins in the discovery of a single sculpture. In 1506, the Laocoön was dug up from the Oppian Hill and purchased by Julius II and brought to the Vatican. Today it can be seen in the Pio-Clementine section along with many other equally impressive works of antiquity.

Visiting the museum is on many to-do lists and is easier if you plan accordingly. First, the Sistine Chapel is located within the Museum. A ticket to the Museum will enable you to see the famous Chapel. Also, the entrance to the museum is not through St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s on the north side of Vatican City. From the center of the Square, walk through the colonnade on your right and you’ll see a medieval looking gate. Follow the crowd of people through the gate and walk, keeping the huge wall on your left hand side, as you make a loop around the city. As you walk, note the vastness of the wall. Just because you hold the keys to heaven and hell doesn’t mean the Pope was free from enemies.

If you plan on visiting, I highly recommend purchasing a ticket online. There are two designated lines at the entrance, one to buy a ticket at the counter and one for the online prepaid. If you have a confirmation printed out for prepaid ticket, show it to a guard and they should direct you in the right direction. Make sure you’re standing in the right line. The line for prepaid tickets should be much shorter. The line to purchase tickets at the door will probably wrap around the city walls.

I snapped a quick picture to help illustrate.

Here is the entrance to the Vatican Museums. The line on the right of the entrance, is for on line reservations and would file through the barricades seen here. The line to purchase your ticket at the counter is on the left.

Here is the entrance to the Vatican Museums. The line on the right of the entrance, is for on line reservations and would file through the barricades seen here. The line to purchase your ticket at the counter is on the left.

The Museum is primarily self-guided and is broken up into several sections. Here’s a quick list of those sections along with what they designate. Click the links for more detailed information.

Braccio Nuovo

Translated as “New Wing” the Braccio Nuovo was built as a response to the French returning many of the pieces Napoleon had, er, borrowed. No slouch when it came to choosing the best artwork, the Braccio Nuovo is home to terrific Roman sculptures of emperors and gods all dating back to antiquity. Highlights include Augustus from Prima Porta and The Nile.

Pio-Clementine Museum

Named for the two Popes who oversaw the foundation, this section is a grouping of large rooms that house Greek and Roman Sculpture. Some of the best Greek and Roman sculpture.

Vatican Picture Gallery – Pinocoteca

The art wing of the museum and perhaps the quietest area in the entire museum. It’s a pleasure to remove yourself from the hustle and bustle just outside and take your time perusing this collection.

Garden and Courtyard

The Vatican Gardens offer tours if you book in advance. The courtyard also has some interesting features like the Pine Cone, Sphere within Sphere, and base of the Column of Antoninus Pius and Faustina.

Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel

The last two sections come packaged together, as you may pass through the Raphael Rooms to reach the Sistine Chapel. You’ll be directed to the Sistine Chapel from every nook and cranny of the museum so don’t worry about missing it. The Sistine Chapel does close fifteen minutes before the museum though!

And here’s the problem. I suspect, although I haven’t asked, many people visit just to see the Sistine Chapel. Once you fall into line to see Michelangelo’s ceiling it’s a Hotel California situation, you can check in any time you like but you can never leave. The path directs the crowd down the Gallery of Maps and through the ins and outs of the Raphael Rooms. Here you will see some terrific tapestries as well as the Room of Constantine.

The museum offers a “Long Way” and a “Short Way” to the Sistine Chapel. I’ve never taken the short way, but I can say that by the time you complete the “long” tour, it’s a biblical odyssey in itself. The length of the gallery and the ins and outs leading up to the Sistine Chapel are can be tiring so plan ahead.

The Creation of Adam, from

The Creation of Adam, from

Perhaps this was simply my experience, but I first visited the Museum on a busy Monday in June. Rome can be famously toasty during the summer, so plan accordingly and keep hydrated. Seeing the Sistine Chapel can take a while from beginning to end, so just to be sure, sip some water before you begin. You might consider taking a pause in your visit to visit the cafeteria, where you can find a terrific array of sandwiches and salads, or do as I did and grab something at the vending machines just inside the main entrance. Once you’re refueled and given your feet a break, start your trek to the Capella Sistina!

Because the Vatican Museum is such a large job to tackle, I would just advise to take your time and enjoy more than just the headliners. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the crowds and the number of pieces, so I would start a short list of what you personally want to see, then track them down when you get there. Maybe pick up a guidebook, or down load an app on your Ipad to really explore the Museum, maybe even before you get there. You can purchase audio tours at the entrance, as well as guidebooks before you start your quest.

When you visit:

Here’s a link to the Museum website that provides an interactive guide to the museum. I always find it helpful to get a layout before I travel.

Interactive guide

Also on the page is a link entitled “Not to be Missed works online.” Consider it a solid cheat sheet for those that want to make a personal list of things they want to see.

Be advised that there is a metal detector and security to pass through, just as there is for St. Peters Basilica. Don’t panic. This isn’t an airport or a Swiss border. They just want to make sure no one is going to harm the artwork. And considering how close they let you get the to the pieces it’s probably a good idea. So gents, leave your pocket knives behind. The museum is wheel chair accessible and staff are fluent in many languages. Don’t forget that although this is a museum and the dress code shouldn’t apply, at the Vatican it does. The Sistine Chapel is still a holy space so make sure your knees are covered as well as shoulders. Gentlemen will get called out on this too.

Hours: FOR THE MOST PART the museum is open Monday through Saturday, 9am to 4pm. Check with the official website, because the Vatican observes many religious holidays as well and will be closed on those dates. You can find the official site here.

(Good days to visit: There probably aren’t slow days per se, but on a day where the Pope has a service, such as Wednesday, might not be the most opportune time. And while a Monday might seem convenient since many other museums across Rome are closed on Monday everyone else is aware of that too. Thursday, Friday, and possibly Saturday might be your best bet.)

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The Capitoline Museum

Photo courtesy of

The  Capitoline Museum – Musei Capitolini – is a museum of the city of Rome itself. It dates back to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a series of sculptures that had previously been kept in the Lateran. The return of some of Rome’s history to the City’s symbolic center created a feel of revival that matched the current Renaissance. More notable works were added to the Museum’s collection when Pope Pius V decided to rid the Vatican of “pagan” images.

The Capitoline Museum is housed in two main buildings: the Palazzo dei Conservatori, and the Palazzo Nuovo. These buildings combine with the Palazzo Senatorio to form Michelangelo’s architectural plan for the square. The museum entrance is through the Palazzo dei Conservatori, which is home to sculptures like the Capitoline Wolf and the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius. The Pinacoteca on the second floor is the art gallery, with works by Titian, Tintoretto, Van Dyck, Rubens and Caravaggio.

The Conservatori is linked to Palazzo Nuovo by a tunnel through the Tabularium. From the exterior, this building is identical to Palazzo dei Conservatori. Inside, this building also houses many powerhouse sculptures, such as the 3rd century BC works known as the Dying Gaul and the Capitoline Venus.

If you plan to visit, the museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00am until 8:00pm, except for December 25, January 1, and May 1. The late closing makes this an ideal stop for a late afternoon visit. Tickets can be bought online, or at the museum entrance on the Campidoglio.

For more information, visit the Museum’s webpage Here.

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