BMCR 2011.12.28

Catalogue Etruria I: Architectural Terracottas and Painted Wall Plaques, Pinakes c. 625-200 BC

Jette Christiansen, Nancy A. Winter, Catalogue Etruria I: Architectural Terracottas and Painted Wall Plaques, Pinakes c. 625-200 BC. Copenhagen: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, 2010. 198. ISBN 9788774523123

This catalogue documents the collection of architectural terracottas and plaques (pinakes) in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Certain architectural pieces, such as simas, antefixes, and revetment plaques, were mould-made and thus mass-produced, while others, as acroteria, a single antepagmentum, and columen- and mutulus-plaques, were generally fashioned by hand. Pinakes were individually painted for the walls of both religious buildings and burial chambers.

The catalogue begins with a foreword that explains the history of the collection. It was assembled primarily by the founder of the museum, Carl Jacobsen, in the 1890s, but parts, including the wall plaques, were added in 1977-1978 and a long-term loan of fragments of revetment plaques was made in 1990. Many of the pieces purchased in 1977- 1978 have recently become the subject of a lawsuit. These were the last acquisitions of the museum from the international art market and because of the loss of information resulting from such purchases, the museum has now ceased collecting. Instead, it plans to supplement exhibitions of its own material through exchanges and long-term loans.

In the Introduction, Winter presents an overview of Etruscan architecture, including houses, communal buildings, and temples, and details the components of a terracotta roof. In doing so, she identifies and locates the individual elements, citing the numbers of corresponding entries in the catalogue. She then discusses manufacturing techniques and styles (or systems) of decoration, which are also represented in the collection. This is important information for those visiting the museum or just perusing the catalogue, who may not be familiar with Etruscan roof- and wall-decoration. Additionally, the student of Etruscan art will benefit from the chronological development of forms (e.g., simas, and columen-and mutulus-plaques) and motifs (especially for antefixes and revetment plaques) and the correlation, in some cases, of specific decorative types with the size of a building or their location on it (e.g., antefixes, revetment plaques).

Christiansen offers a similar, but shorter, analysis for terracotta wall plaques. In contrast to the exterior location of architectural terracottas, these pinakes were mainly used on the interior. Caere has produced the best-known examples and these are cited for information on dimensions, technique of construction, composition of painted decoration, and method of application. The origins of the wall plaques in the Glyptotek are unknown, but Christiansen notes their similarity to those from Caere. All are fragmentary, allowing at most for the reconstruction of motifs, but not of original size.

A catalogue of the material follows, with contributions from both authors. It begins with an entire Etrusco-Ionian roof and continues with now-isolated elements organized by type. (See list of chapters.) Each item is described and dated, with reconstructions for some and photographs for nearly all. Individual pieces are identified by inventory number(s) and discussed in terms of dimensions, condition, technique of manufacture, material, acquisition date and probable place of origin. Most, but not all, of these objects have been published elsewhere, and that information is provided, often along with sources for related examples. The catalogue is thus very detailed and informative.

What is remarkable about the collection is its range in both date and type, and its generally high quality. The remains of two lion protomai once attached to cover tiles (no. 5) are placed as early as the last quarter of the 7th century and thus stand at the beginning of architectural decoration in Etruria. A winged figure probably broken away from another cover-tile (no. 6) reflects Orientalizing-period types, although dated 600-580 B.C. At the other end of the chronological spectrum are a raking sima in relief with alternating female and silen heads rising from acanthus clusters (no. 12) and a female head antefix (no. 21), both from the 2 nd century B.C. and perhaps the same roof. The majority of pieces, however, date to the 6th century, which is not surprising given the enormous production during that time.1

Although all components of an Etruscan roof are represented, antefixes form the bulk of the collection, probably also for reasons of production. A large number of antefixes bear a female head, either unadorned or embellished with a diadem, tutulus, shell frame, or floral shell frame. Examples range in date from ca. 540 B.C. to Hellenistic times. Other antefixes show the head of Acheloos or a silen, also enclosed in a shell or, for the latter, a floral shell frame. The shell frame, consisting of a series of leaves or tongues enclosing relief bands, is characteristic of roofs in the south Italian region of Campania. Among the Glyptotek collection are examples of the three types (nos. 26-28), with a female head, inverted palmette, and gorgoneion, each enclosed in a shell frame, which decorated the Temple of Mater Matuta at Satricum, in Campania. In addition, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek possesses a number of full-figure antefixes, the result of the increased size of temples, and thus their decoration, at the turn from the 6 th to the 5 th century. These items show a variety of representations, including a single maenad (no. 38), a maenad and silen (in different versions, nos. 39, 44), a seated silen (no. 43), a running figure (identified as Phosphoros, no. 40), Typhon (no. 42), and Potnia Theron (no, 41), this last dating to the Hellenistic period.

Next in number are revetment plaques, nearly all of which belong to the 6 th century. Several preserve color, including two sets in low relief in white-on-red decoration (nos. 55-56), two others in higher relief with black, white, and various shades of brown and red (nos. 59-60), a number of plaques with varied, and often unusual, themes rendered only in paint (nos. 62-66), and four fragments preserving floral relief in red, black, and white or pink (no. 67).

Especially striking are the acroteria, which were generally executed in the round and largely, if not entirely, handmade. These include a female head (no. 68) now attributed to a ridge statue of the second Temple of Mater Matuta in the San Omobono sanctuary in Rome, and fragments of at least two sphinxes (no. 69), a hippocamp with rider (no. 70), a male figure, possibly Herakles (no. 71), and a likely Harpy flanked by volutes (no. 72).

In addition, rider acroteria placed atop a raking sima can be reconstructed from fragments in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (no. 73) and elsewhere. The acroteria were of two types made from very similar moulds : a single Amazon on a pair of horses to right and two warriors, each on his own horse, to left. The two groups would have appearedto ride toward the apex of the temple, which was occupied by a striding-warrior acroterion (no. 74), while the columen and mutulus plaques below were also decorated with warriors in relief (no. 75). All these figures are approximately one-quarter life size and are united as well by stylistic and technical characteristics. Patricia Lulof, who authored the entries, explains that all pieces were found in excavations of 1869-1870 at Caere and belong to the roof of a temple there.

The wall plaques (pinakes) show finely executed representations of the Archaic period and slightly later, but their fragmentary nature makes identification of the scenes uncertain. One (no. 78) may depict the Judgment of Paris and a three-part series (no. 79) is attributed to a narrative frieze of ritual or mythological content. A plaque showing a warrior with parts of another extending over the finished edge (no. 80) and a fragment with a male figure divided by a joint (no. 81) provide further evidence that a single pinax may not be complete in itself. At the same time, the collection contains at least one, and probably two, narrow plaques, each of which bears a fully contained figure (no. 85). These are tentatively identified as revetments flanking a doorway or window.

A bibliography appears at the end of the book, which provides citations for sources and abbreviations noted in the text. Since the authors mention developments in Campanian antefixes that subsequently impacted those of Etruria (p. 18), a brief bibliography of Campanian terracottas would have been useful. Besides articles by various scholars, one might cite the book by C. Rescigno, Tetti campani, età arcaica: Cuma, Pitecusa e gli altri contesti. Rome: G. Bretschneider, 1998.

Overall, this publication provides an excellent background to Etruscan architectural decoration and a thorough documentation of the important pieces in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. The reader is aided by clear descriptions and illustrations, even for fragmentary items. Reconstructions are offered for many compositions and are particularly helpful for the unusual pediment represented by Amazon- and warrior- acroteria ascending the sima (no. 73). Another unusual arrangement, consisting of a hand-made depiction of Herakles attached to the corner of a raking sima and of snake heads, perhaps of the Lernean Hydra, rising above (nos. 9-10), would also have benefited from a reconstruction drawing. Similarly, the tentative assignment of an elaborate raking sima (no. 13), small female head antefixes (no. 48) and large female- and silen-head antefixes (nos. 49-50) to separate locations on a single late 4 th century roof, and of a lateral sima (no. 15) and revetment plaques (nos. 53-54) to another, much earlier (ca. 580 B.C.) roof, could be better envisioned with reconstructions. Such drawings would further enhance the impressiveness of this publication.

Table of Contents

Foreword, 7-10
Introduction, 11-24
Catalogue, 25
The Architectural Terracottas, 27
Etrusco-Ionian Roof, 27-33
Cover Tiles, 34-37
Raking Simas, 38-53
Lateral Simas, 54-55
Antefixes, 56-113
Revetment Plaques, 114-139
Acroteria, 140-159
Columen and Mutulus Plaques, 160-171
The Painted Wall Plaques, Pinakes, 172-191
Bibliography, 192-196
Concordance, 197-198


1. See Winter, N.A. Symbols of Wealth and Power: Architectural Terracottas in Etruria and Central Italy: ca. 640- 510 B.C. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2009.