BMCR 2019.07.17

Anton Francesco Gori, Gaetano Albizzini, Francesco Vettori e l’officina del Museum Etruscum. Symbolae antiquariae, 7 (2014)

, Anton Francesco Gori, Gaetano Albizzini, Francesco Vettori e l’officina del Museum Etruscum. Symbolae antiquariae, 7 (2014). Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2018. 116. ISBN 9788833151106 €115,00 (pb).

The name and mission of the annual, peer-reviewed journal Symbolae antiquariae “echoes the highest tradition of Italian Enlightenment culture, deriving from a similar experience promoted by Anton Francesco Gori in Florence in the mid-eighteenth century, who played a leading role in the culture of that time,” so it is fitting that a consideration of Gori’s efforts to record, promote, and publish the study of Etruscan Italy is presented here.1 The author of this volume, Stefano Bruni, is also co-director of the journal.

The early to mid-eighteenth century saw a flurry of archaeological activity and discovery in Tuscany, accompanied by an equally intensive effort to publish ancient inscriptions and works of art. Anton Francesco Gori (1691–1757), a student of Florentine classicist Anton Maria Salvini (1653–1729), turned his attention to Etruscan antiquities after finding inspiration in the work of antiquarian Filippo Buonarroti (1661–1733; great-grandnephew of Michelangelo Buonarroti). Buonarroti published Thomas Dempster’s De Etruria Regali in 1723, over one hundred years after the author’s death, and correspondence between Buonarroti, Gori, and members of the Guarnacci family and other Volterran landowners on new discoveries from the necropoleis of Volterra in the 1730s shows that there was a clear need for a major publishing program specifically for antiquities from Etruria. This interest led to the appearance of the Museum Etruscum, a three-volume tome (Vols. I–II, 1737; Vol. III, 1743) that is the subject of the present publication. In it, Bruni moves deftly between the Etruscan archaeological literature and historic literature relating to eighteenth-century antiquarianism, which are usually treated entirely separately, and synthesizes them into a coherent picture of early Etruscology.

Bruni presents a concise history of antiquarian publishing in Italy in order to clarify the model followed by Gori in the Museum Etruscum, discussing such undertakings as Bernard de Montfaucon’s Antiquité expliqué and Gori’s parallel work on the volumes of Inscriptiones Antiquae (1734) and the Museum Florentinum (a series of twelve volumes illustrating the Medici collection and other collections of antiquities in Florence, published 1731–66). The latter is a truly remarkable undertaking in its own right, and even more impressive given the scope of these contemporary projects.

Gori began his work on the Museum Etruscum in earnest in August of 1732, and in a twenty-two-day trip in May 1733, he visited the major Etruscan centers and archaeological collections of Arezzo, Cortona, Chiusi, Montepulciano, Pienza, Siena, Panzano, Poggibonsi, San Casciano, and Perugia (he had visited Volterra two years before; p. 19) to see as many Etruscan antiquities as possible, ending his “caccia etrusca” in Rome (p. 62). Bruni reproduces a letter in full about Gori’s process and experience, and he lists the numerous important collectors and collections of Etruscan objects, as well as the corresponding modern archival sources for them. Gori was able to visit his network of colleagues, clerics, and fellow antiquarians, seeing some of them for the first time after long periods of correspondence, including his influential colleague and advisor, the antiquarian Francesco Vettori (1692–1770), in Rome.

After the trip, little by little the drawings of antiquities were translated to intaglios for printing, and more and more antiquities were being added, though not necessarily all Etruscan (e.g., Greek vases in collections in Rome, Bologna, and Naples, then believed to be Etruscan, pp. 38–39). Here, Bruni’s painstaking archival work is made apparent through his inclusion of correspondence related to the illustrated objects, along with their provenance histories, related publications, archival notes, and present locations. This corpus of contextual data includes a detailed explanation of the sources for the images on the title page of the Museum Etruscum, which also grants insight into the eighteenth-century understanding of Etruscan culture in relation to the Greco-Roman world (pp. 73–74). At the same time, the author presents a candid picture of the production process of such an expensive, monumental publication during a time of increasing archaeological activity and constant new finds. For example, when the organization of the entire work had been determined and the first two volumes were ready for press in 1736, Gori received news of the momentous discovery of painted tombs at Tarquinia (Corneto), so that he had to make revisions to accommodate the new information.

Over time, the pace of new discoveries and the desire to add more and more to the Museum Etruscum made it clear that Gori could not keep up with it financially, and he began to reach out more and more to his network of antiquarians and educated clerics to underwrite the publication. In 1737, when the work was finally in Gori’s hands, he decided to print the first two volumes in his own house under the direction of Gaetano Albizzini (1703–1767), the son of a Florentine editor and bookseller. While Inscriptiones Antiquae, published just three years earlier, included a list of 61 underwriters, the Museum Etruscum boasted 140 from Italy and other European countries (pp. 70–71, esp. p. 71 n. 1). It remains unknown how many copies were printed, but Bruni imagines it to be at least 250.

The volume under review provides a staggering amount of detailed archival research—with full citations, transcriptions, and quotes from eighteenth-century correspondence and other sources—from repositories in Florence, Modena, Pisa, and Volterra, but the footnotes overwhelm the text itself. There are a number of pages that have only one or two lines of text, the rest being occupied by footnotes (e.g., pp. 14, 31, 52, 64, 75). Footnotes are not numbered continuously, but rather begin again with each page, even if a footnote from a previous page continues to the next. Bruni has transcribed and reproduced many letters (sometimes in full, e.g., p. 13 n. 4, p. 20 in text, p. 28 nn. 5ff.) and other correspondence from Gori and his associates, usually in notes but sometimes in the main text. This documentation is helpful for interested scholars in that it alleviates the need to consult so many archival sources, but its very abundance does take away from the overall narrative.

In practical terms, many of the figures in this volume, especially the plates from the Museum Etruscum, have been reproduced at a low resolution and are out of focus. Additionally, there are a number of proofreading errors, e.g., figure calls on p. 62 switch to “tav.” instead of “fig.,” “Briish” p. 61; “forentino” p. 74; etc. An index of names is provided at the end, which is helpful for keeping track of the numerous antiquarians and other figures mentioned in Gori’s extensive correspondence.

In sum, this volume is the result of careful archival work and presents scholars with a synthesis of the major figures, ideas, and process related to early antiquarian excavation, scholarship, and publication in eighteenth-century Tuscany. This research is especially important for scholars of archaeology, art history, Etruscology, history, and museum studies who work with material excavated and collected at this time. It demonstrates how rich archival sources continue to shed new light on objects we see in museum collections today, and how the twenty-first-century study of Etruscan culture is still informed by the work of early pioneers like Anton Francesco Gori, whose tireless efforts united disparate collections into a comprehensive presentation of ancient Etruria, as understood at the dawn of Italian archaeology.


1. From the publisher’s website.