Thursday, February 3, 2011


David A. Caccioli, The Villanovan, Etruscan and Hellenistic Collections in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Monumenta Graeca et Romana, 14. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2009. Pp. vi, 242; ills. 140. ISBN 9789004172302. $147.00.

Reviewed by Helen Nagy, University of Puget Sound (

Version at BMCR home site


This is the second catalog of ancient material in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts to be published by Brill. It follows the 2007 publication of the Corinthian and Attic Vases by Brian Madigan (Corinthian and Attic Vases in the Detroit Institute of Arts: Geometric, Black-figure and Red-figure. Monumenta Graeca et Romana 12, reviewed by Mary B. Moore (BMCR 2008.08.24). Presenting relatively small eclectic collections such as the one under review carries some challenges. There is no one template for format and authors have chosen a variety of solutions some of which probably depend on the publishers.1 The catalogs published by Brill follow a relatively standard format: catalog number, period, name, date, medium and dimensions, provenance, description, discussion and bibliography.

Caccioli's catalog presents 127 high quality objects of a great variety that are remarkably well selected to represent the various categories of Etruscan production. The volume opens with an introduction by William H. Peck, former Curator of Ancient Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts, concerning the formation of the Etruscan collection that began in the 1880s with a gift of Miss Clara Avery of four grey bucchero vessels (Cat. Nos. 98-101). Other individual gifts followed during the late 19th and throughout the 20th centuries. The collection grew significantly during the first half of the 20th century with some very fine acquisitions, such as two cinerary urns (Cats. No. 1, 2), and the famous bronze rider (Cat. No. 8). The bulk of the collection, over sixty pieces, was donated to the museum in 1961 by the Etruscan Foundation. Most of this material had been in the storerooms of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Florence and had been given to the Etruscan Foundation by that institution. Peck's discussion is another contribution to the fascinating history of American collections and collectors.

The objects are organized according to medium, with sub-categories as to types. Each section has its own brief introduction placing the category in the larger context of Etruscan art. Chapter II, "Stone," includes three cinerary urns. Cat. Nos. 1 and 2 are from Volterra, and represent two varieties typical of that site. Cat. No. 1 is a finely carved object made of alabaster with a reclining male banqueter on the lid and a mythological scene carved on the body. Cat. No. 2 is a more rugged type, carved of tufa with a standard dextrarum iunctio scene on the box. The third urn is probably from Chiusi and bears an inscription on the lower edge of the lid. This small group represents one of the notable characteristics of the collection as a whole: the emphasis on a few well-preserved examples that illustrate a type or a workshop.

Chapter III, "Bronze," includes six sub-categories, 1.statuettes, 2.mirror,, 4.vessels,, weapons, armor, instruments, and 6.miscellaneous. The six statuettes span a broad chronological range from the 7th to the 4th-1st c. BC. While the beautiful high quality late 5th century BC statuette of a rider (Cat.No. 8) is the collection's pièce de résistance, the other pieces, including a charming votive warrior with arms stretched wide (Cat. No. 6) and a rugged late Herakles (Cat. No. 9) represent the more mundane gifts of less wealthy Etruscans. The one mirror in the collection (Cat. No. 10), incised with a scene of bathing women, is typical of this type of object produced at Praeneste. Thirteen bronze fibulae and two bronze bracelets constitute the jewelry category. They are all in good condition and represent a wide variety of this type of object. There are five complete vessels, each a different shape, and a lively leopard attachment (Cat. No. 31). In the weapons, armor, instruments category, there are some fine early axe heads (Cat. Nos. 34, 35), but the two most outstanding pieces are a helmet (Cat. No. 41) of the late 6th – early 5th c. and a very well preserved set of greaves of the same period. The instruments include ladles, a typical Etruscan torch holder (Cat. No. 45), and a nice strigil with a stamped inscription (Cat. No. 46). Horse bits, trappings and belt clasps round out the miscellaneous category. Again, the pieces are in good state of preservation and vary in form and decoration.

All of the pottery is grouped under Chapter IV. "Ceramic." The introduction to this section presents the peculiarities of typical Etruscan pottery in the context of Greek and Near Eastern prototypes. The items are arranged chronologically and according to fabric, beginning with Villanovan impasto of the late 9th century. With the exception of Cat. No. 70, an impressive large Dolio, a recent gift, the impasto pieces are modest, but they do represent the variety of shapes and decoration of this simple ware. The collection has 47 very good examples of the fine-grained typically Etruscan ceramic ware, bucchero, including four simple pieces of the grey variety. They illustrate a good portion of the large variety of shapes and decoration available in this flexible fabric. The buccherocategory is followed by various Etruscan responses to Greek pottery: Etrusco-Geomertic, Etrusco-Corinthian, Black-Figure, Red-Figure and Etruscan Black Gloss. Cat. No. 110, an Etrusco-Corinthian round aryballos, attributed to the Bobuda Painter, is also featured in the catalog of the Detroit Corinthian and Attic Vases by B. Madigan, mentioned above, (pp. 10-11, Cat. No. 18) as possibly Etrusco-Corinthian. The one Etruscan Black-Figure example (Cat. No. 111) is a very fine and well preserved neck amphora by the Micali Painter. There are a few Hellenistic pieces (Cat. Nos. 117-123), including a coarse impasto olla that contained human remains. (Cat. No. 122) The Etruscan ceramic collection is certainly worthy of attention as it includes a great variety of well preserved objects representative of their type and technique.

Chapter V features four terracotta objects, two votive sculptures and one ancient and one modern architectural revetment fragment. The last (Cat. No. 127) is interesting because it can be attributed to the Orvieto workshop of Riccardo and Amedeo Riccardi that produced Etruscan forgeries in the 1920s. The forgers actually relied on moulds taken from original Etruscan works to create their pieces. Perhaps with the publication of this catalog, this piece will find its place in the scholarship on Etruscan forgeries. The recent publication by Paul Craddock on forgeries came out too late to be included in the bibliography.2 The volume concludes with an extensive bibliography (Chapter VII). Caccioli's entries are thorough but the intrusion of comparanda in the descriptions can be confusing. One can always add a reference or two to the comparanda, but Caccioli provides plenty of recent references for each entry. The eccentric spelling of Corinthian as Korinthian, etc. is an oddity. Each object is illustrated, sometimes by more than one image, but the quality of the illustrations varies. Three fine photographs accompany Cat. No. 1, but unfortunately there are no illustrations of the side panels. A detail or two (perhaps drawn) of the frieze on the buccherochalice (Cat. No. 85) would have been very helpful. This frieze is of great interest and the verbal description is difficult to follow without some visual aid. Some of the illustrations are a bit blurry, for example those of Cat. No. 96, a bucchero pesantelid.

On the whole this is a very finely researched and well-presented volume. The Villanovan, Etruscan and Hellenistic collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts may not be extensive, but it consists of a coherent and important group of carefully selected and well-preserved objects. The publisher should be commended for making such collections available in a standard catalog format.


1.   For example, Jean MacIntosh Turfa, Catalogue of the Etruscan Gallery of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia 2005, presents 324 objects and also includes chapters on the archaeology of early Central Italy and on tomb groups that precede the catalog itself. Similarly, Classical Antiquities at New York University ed. Larissa Bonfante and Blair Fowlkes, Rome 2006, is a catalog of 91 objects with a lengthy introduction and extensive entries that include endnotes instead of references in the text.
2.   Paul Craddock, Scientific Investigation of Copies, Fakes and Forgeries, Elsevier, Oxford 2009. P. 197 deals specifically with the Riccardi family business.

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