Etruscan and Roman Art



10th c. B.C.E to c. 270 B.C.E.


Legendary founding of Rome [by Romulus/Remus] 753 B.C.E.

Roman Republic 509 B.C.E. to 27 B.C.E.

Roman Empire 27 B.C.E. to 410 C.E.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING #1 - Etruscan art is characterized by a pantheon of gods celebrated in large civic and religious buildings.

  • Etruscan art is studied as a unit, rather than by individual city-states.

  • Etruscan art shows a number of ancient influences.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING #2 - Etruscan art is known primarily through archaeology.

  • The Etruscan literary tradition is mostly lost.



The Etruscans were a people who occupied central Italy before the arrival of the Romans--indeed, the region Tuscany is named for them. The remains of their civilization can be gleaned from written sources of later historians like Vitruvius or from what was buried in their expansive necropoli.

The Etruscans erected large mound-shaped tombs that contained a single large room in which the deceased were interred. The wall murals and stucco designs on the interior of the tombs ar thought to parallel the interior of Etruscan homes. Large sarcophagi, made of terra-cotta, were placed within the tomb, usually containing the ashes of the deceased. The style of these works betrays a knowledge of Archaic Greek works from around the same time.

The Etruscans were eventually overwhelmed by the Romans, who continued to employ Etruscan artists well into the Roman Republic.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING # 1 - Roman art is characterized by a pantheon of gods celebrated in large civic and religious buildings.

  • Roman art can be subdivided into the following periods: Republican, Early Imperial, Late Imperial, and Late Antique.

  • Roman architecture has a large public element and is influenced by Etruscan and Greek models. Roman architecture shows a great deal of variety and a willingness to experiment.

  • Roman art was revived with an eighteenth-century interest in Roman laws, government, and philosophy.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING # 2 - Much ancient writing survives in the fields of literature, law, politics, and business. These documents shed light on Roman civilization as a whole, and on Roman art in particular.

  • Roman writing contains some of the earliest contemporary accounts about art and artists.

  • Epics form the foundation of Roman writing. These texts were at first transmitted orally, but were later written down.


Art was used to emphasize the power of the state in a society in which empire building was a specialty. Monumental buildings and sculptures graced the great cities of the Roman world. The introduction of new methods of vaulting and the use of new construction materials, like concrete, enabled the Romans to build structures that not only had impressive exteriors but also had unparalleled interiors of great spaciousness.

Much is known about Roman art because of the destruction of the city of Pompeii by the volcanic explosion of Vesuvius in 79 C.E. Remains of Roman paintings betray some knowledge of linear perspective and foreshortening. Frescoes dominate the walls of elaborate villas in this seaside resort.

The Romans greatly admired Greek sculpture and were inspired by it throughout their history; indeed, much is known about Greek art from Roman copies that survive. Republican veristic works were influenced by Hellenistic Greek art; Imperial sculptures are modeled more on the Greek Classical age. Even though Roman sculpture retained a grandeur until the end of the Empire, it increasingly took on a military character, as in works such as The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus.