BMCR 2006.01.14

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

, , Catalogue of the Etruscan gallery of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2005. 1 online resource (xvi, 329 pages) : illustrations, maps. ISBN 9781934536254 $59.95.

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.