BMCR 2018.01.21

Etruria II. Collection of Antiquities

, , Etruria II. Collection of Antiquities. Copenhagen: NY Carlsberg Glyptotek, 2017. 569. ISBN 9788774523529. (pb).

This splendid, scientific catalogue contains precise and readable descriptions and mostly new colour photos of about 240 Etruscan artefacts, including several standout pieces from ca 900-450 BC, mainly from Etruria. In the Preface, museum curator Jette Christiansen describes the history of the collection. The majority, consisting of more than 160 pieces, was formed by the brewer Carl Jacobsen, founder of the Glyptotek. Inspired by Jules Martha’s L’Art Étrusque (1889), he asked Wolfgang Helbig to acquire Etruscan objects. The collection, called The Helbig Museum, was given a place in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in 1906. Jacobsen himself even wrote the first catalogue before his death in 1914. Ten years later, Frederik Poulsen bought many Greek and Etruscan artefacts from the brothers Riccardo and Amadeo Riccardi, notorious forgers at Orvieto. He published his catalogue, Das Helbig Museum der Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, in 1927. Most of the authentic objects seem to come from the Orvieto region, with nos. 26, 40, and 44 maybe from Campo della Fiera, which is presumed to be the federal sanctuary known as the Fanum Voltumnae. After the Second World War, many other pieces were donated or acquired. Due to the 1970 UNESCO convention, artefacts that were acquired in the 1970s will be returned to Italy (Appendix II). The present exhibition, shown in a global context, took shape in 2006, thanks to Christiansen (see her exhibition catalogue The Ancient Mediterranean, Vojens 200).

This new catalogue presents sculpture (including sculptural terracottas, noted here as ‘fired clay artefacts’), bronzes, ceramics, bucchero, figured ceramics and complete tomb assemblages, from Tarquinia (a warrior tomb ( tomba a pozzo, 900-850 BC), the Bologna region (cremation tomb 8 from the necropolis of San Giovanni in Persiceto, 24 km north of the city, 800-600 BC), and Cerveteri (an unknown chamber tomb, 700-625 BC), all preceded by short introductions. Many find-spots are unknown or described as ‘said to come from.’ The author nevertheless painstakingly suggests production centres and approximate dates. She also pays attention to Assyrian, Northern Syrian, Phoenician, Cypriot, Egyptian and Greek influences on form and/or iconography, function, models, and ritual and gender aspects. The sequence of the artefacts is not chronological but typological. Particularly interesting are several objects with holes or cavities like the hourglass-shaped altars with tops from Orvieto (nos. 12-15), grave markers ( cippus bases) of pietra fetida from Chiusi (16-19), and possibly the bottomless enthroned woman with inserted head (formerly incorrectly called Mater Matuta), both of pietra fetida, from Città della Pieve. All these objects may have been used for libation rituals in honour of ancestors or chthonic (better: catachthonic) deities.

Of course, it is difficult to comment on all items, but some imperfections should be noted. The Tarquinian nenfro relief slabs in the form of metopes bordered by three steps (nos. 5-6) are not doors but stepped stone slabs ( Treppensteine; lastroni a scala) which originally had their place in the drum of a tumulus which gave access to the sacred area on its top, as W. Prayon has shown.1 The sixth century BC inscription on a tombstone from the Cannicella (not “Canicella”, the spelling used throughout the catalogue) necropolis at Orvieto (no. 11) has to be read as larece tequnas, not tekunas 2. The form of this stone, which shows a typically Latial-Etruscan architectural moulding, is not influenced by Phoenician or Punic betyls (not beityls, as the word is spelled in the catalogue). Unexplained is frieze b on an archaic grave marker from Chiusi (no. 17). S. Haynes, following J.-R. Jannot, has convincingly interpreted it as a mimic performance representing Zetes and Kalais, the sons of Boreas, pursuing the Harpies who had snatched away food from king Phineus.3 Christiansen suggests that the hole of the canopic head (no. 72) was used for the attachment of a head-covering. However, possibly it was used for libation. The seventh-century BC ring-shaped jug, from Vulci? (no. 92), has a bisexual handle figure that the author relates to the statue in Rome of the Etruscan deity Vertumnus, who could change sex. Propertius, however, who describes this statue, plays with the word vertere (to change). His poem does not inform us about the god’s original character, let alone seven centuries earlier. A bronze mirror from Tuscania dated around 330 BC shows Veltune (inscribed), probably identical to Voltumna (mentioned above), as a nude, bearded, protective god holding a lance.4 It is a pity that indices, for example of mythological figures, are missing. There are some typos like Thuran for Turan and Pithekousai for Pithekoussai.

All in all, Etruria II is a modern catalogue (for Etruria I, see BMCR 2011.12.28). A nice touch is that the cylinder seal impressions on bucchero are also illustrated with drawings. The bibliography, appendices, and concordance are carefully edited. Marshall Joseph Becker carried out the osteological research. Unfortunately, Jette Christiansen passed away in 2015. Therefore, some contributions and revisions were made by Nora Marguerita Petersen.


1. ( Die Etrusker. Jenseitsvorstellungen und Ahnenkult. Mainz 2006; BABESCH Supplement 16 (2010), 78).

2. See G. Meiser (ed.), Etruskische Texte (ET). Editio minor 2. Hamburg 2014, Vs 1.154

3. S. Haynes ( Etruscan Civilization. Los Angeles, p. 246, fig. 202.

4. ( ET AS S. 11).