Posts Tagged With: sculpture

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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Vatican Museum: Courtyard and Garden

Visitors to the Vatican Museums are bound to notice a few odds and ends kept in the museum courtyard. There’s just a few but each one is worth mention. Come on out and see one of the world’s most exclusive backyards.


Base from the Column of Antoninus Pius

Located on a large deck between the Pinacoteca wing and the Pio-Clementine wing, is the base of the Column of Antoninus Pius. The column was originally erected by Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus to honor their predecessor. Though the column has not been preserved, the base serves as an excellent symbolic illustration of an emperor’s deification. The relief featured most prominently shows the Emperor Antoninus Pius and his wife Faustina being flown upward by a winged genius while personifications of the Campus Martius and Roma flank the figures. Two other sides illustrate a decursio, a cavalry salute during which they ride in a circle around the deified emperor.


Cortile della Pigna

Translated into English as the “Courtyard of the Pine” the courtyard of the Belvedere Palace is the home of a seemingly innocuous bronze pinecone. This pinecone, however, dates from the 1st century AD and was originally located near the pantheon. Used as a fountain, in ancient times the pinecone was moved to Old Saint Peter’s during the Middle Ages. It now sits in the exedra designed by Bramante. Flanking it are two replicas of peacocks that used to decorate the mausoleum of Hadrian. The originals are now kept in the Braccio Nuovo.


“Sphere within Sphere”

Most likely one of the youngest pieces in the Vatican, “Sphere within Sphere” was designed by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro in the 1990’s. One of a few located around the world, the actual meaning behind the sculpture has been difficult to come by. Unquestionably thought provoking, the golden sphere sits in the center of the courtyard.

You may also be interested in a tour of the Vatican Gardens. Tickets are only offered as a guided tour which includes access to the museum, gardens, and an audio guide. The tour is tour two hours long and is available on every working day except Wednesday and Sunday (The days when the Pope holds audiences.) Find the link here.

Note: According to the Museum website, tours of the gardens have been suspended until further notice. I’m guessing it’s due to Pope Francis’s busy schedule. I’ll keep an eye on it and up date when it changes.

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The Pio-Clementine Museum

If you’ve ever taken an Art History course the P.C. is enough to make you drool. If you haven’t, never fear! I hope to give you enough info to at least fool your friends and family, which is half the fun anyway.

So, the Pio-Clementine, P.C. for short, is named for the two Popes who presided over the organization, back in the 1770’s. It’s home to the Vatican’s collection of Greek and Roman Art dating from antiquity. Follow the links for more detailed articles and photos.

Here’s a list of P.C. Powerhouses:


Belvedere Apollo – Roman copy of a Greek original, 2nd century AD

Considered by many to be the greatest sculpture from antiquity, the statue of Apollo was found in nearby Anzio in 1489 and quickly installed in the Belvedere Palace at the Vatican. Originally, Apollo held a bow outstretched in his left hand. Noted for the ideal male proportions and the contraposto pose.


Laocoon – 2nd century BCE

Found in 1506, the Laocoon depicts the Trojan priest and his sons struggling against divinely powerful snakes. The classical depiction of the human body started a revolution amongst artists when it was discovered.


The River God Arno

Modeled after a Hellenistic original during the time of Hadrian, the River God Arno has been modified over the years. The lion carved on the vase was meant to honor the Medici pope Leo X, and the Arno River flows through Florence, the Medici’s hometown. It makes my list for having one of the most expressive faces.


Belvedere Torso – 1st century BCE

Kept in the Hall of Muses, you’re likely to nearly overlook the battled piece of marble on your way to the next great room. Keep an eye out! The Belvedere Torso may look beat up, but what remains influenced artists for centuries. Michelangelo held it in especially high regard. You can see it in several of his paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Follow the link for more images.



To represent the women, the depiction of Ariadne was purchased once again by Pope Julius II in 1512, the same year the Sistine Chapel was completed. According to mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete, who helped Theseus defeat the Minotaur. She fell asleep and was then discovered by Dionysus. The statue sits upon a sarcophagus and was originally kept in the garden.


Heracles, 1st-3rd century AD

This gilded bronze statue fills a commanding position in the Round Hall (Sala Rotunda). It was found in the 19th century near the Campo de’ Fiori. (Heracles is more commonly known to us as Hercules. He’s easy to spot because he’s almost always carrying a club and is draped in a lion skin.)


The Braschi Antinous

Also located in the Sala Rotunda, the colossal sculpture is a depiction of Hadrian’s favorite, Antinous. He drowned in the Nile River and Hadrian deified him and began a cult around similar attributes as Osiris and Dionysus. There are several statues and busts of Antinous in various characters around the museum. You’ll start to recognize him.


Sarcophagi of St. Helena and Constantina

Believed to have held the remains of Constantine’s mother and daughter, the monumental porphyry sarcophagi reflect the imperial standing of both the women. As mothers, wives, and daughters of emperors, their status could afford a material as expensive as the red porphyry mined in Egypt. They date from the 4th century AD and are decorated with pagan themes.


Hall of the Animals

If you’re traveling with children be sure to stop by the Hall of Animals. It has rows of animal sculptures. Let them pick out the donkeys, camels, horses, dogs, and which one they like best.

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The Laocoön

Laocoon and his Sons, Pio-Clementine wing of the Vatican Museum.

The Laocoön tells the story of the Trojan Priest Laocoön, who famously warned the Trojans not to trust the Greeks. Although you may not have heard of his name, you probably are familiar with his warning as the lines from Virgil have become synonymous with the Trojan War.

Detail from The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773) photo credit to

Detail from The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773) photo credit to

Then Laocoön rushes down eagerly from the heights of the citadel to confront them all, a large crowd with him, and shouts from far off: ‘O unhappy citizens, what madness? Do you think the enemy’s sailed away? Or do you think any Greek gift’s free of treachery? Is that Ulysses’s reputation? Either there are Greeks in hiding, concealed by the wood, or it’s been built as a machine to use against our walls, or spy on our homes, or fall on the city  from above, or it hides some other trick: Trojans, don’t trust this horse. Whatever it is, I’m afraid of Greeks even those bearing gifts.’

The priest then threw his spear into the wooden horse, a hollow sound ringing, but the Trojans ignored him. To silence his warnings, the God Poseidon (Or Neptune) sent two serpents to strangle Laocoön and his sons, the struggle that is the focus of the sculpture.

It’s estimated that the life size work was created in the second century BCE, about 180-170, although the date is difficult to pin down. Pliny the Elder makes note of the sculpture residing in the home of the Emperor Titus and credits three artists with it’s creation: Athenodorus, Agesander, and Polydorus. The piece was lost however until January of 1506, when it was rediscovered on the Oppian Hill, near the site of Nero’s Domus Aurea.

With a close up like this you can really see the precision and the detail

With a close up like this you can really see the precision and the detail

Pope Julius II got wind of the discovery and had the piece installed in the Belvedere Palace, part of the Vatican. The unearthing of the sculpture created a watershed movement through Italy. Artists gathered to study the movement and motion of the figures as well as the level of emotion in the expressions of Laocoön and his sons. Michelangelo was noted to be especially interested in the depiction of the human form and you can see it’s influence in late Renaissance art. When Peter Paul Rubens traveled to Italy in his early twenties, he made detailed sketches of Laocoön, as well as the Farnese Hercules, and the Belvedere Torso.

Sketch by Peter Paul Rubens, courtesy of

Sketch by Peter Paul Rubens, courtesy of

Laocoon Sketch by Baccio Bandinelli, Uffizi Gallery

Laocoon Sketch by Baccio Bandinelli, Uffizi Gallery

The perceived motion, open expression and dramatic rendering were all qualities of Hellenistic artwork, and would serve to transform Renaissance art into the Mannerist and Baroque stages. Artists just learning their craft took diligent notes, then returned to their studios to replicate the perfection of the Greeks in their own creations.

Today, you can see the Laocoön in the Pio-Clementine wing of the Vatican Museum.

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