Sunday, October 5, 2014


Marinella Marchesi, Le sculture di età orientalizzante in Etruria padana. Cataloghi delle collezioni del Museo civicoarcheologico di Bologna. Bologna: Comune di Bologna, 2011. Pp. 347. ISBN 9788865982440. €40.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Christopher Smith, British School at Rome; University of St Andrews (

Version at BMCR home site

This catalogue, one of a growing series on the extremely important collections of the Museo Civico di Bologna, is a thorough and well-illustrated account of the important sculptural output of northernmost Etruria from the late 8th to the 6th centuries BC. It is based on the author's PhD thesis and presents 41 pieces, many highly decorated, and most from Bologna itself. They range from the Stele Arnoaldi A with Geometric decoration, through to the Stele di Saletto di Bentivoglio—with, on the body, a carving of a tree flanked by two goats standing on their hindlegs , and on the disc above a winged quadruped with a bearded man's face—to the Stele di Via Augusto Righi, with its Archaic depictions of armed combat.

The volume begins with a history of the study of this material. The first finds were made in the mid-nineteenth century. Apart from the obvious significance of the contemporary descriptions of context and original conditions of discovery, the chapter also sets out the shifting approaches to northern Etruria over time. Brunn's chronology in 1885, for instance, placed the early seventh-century Gozzadini head in the 4th century BC because he thought the area backward in comparison with other parts of the Mediterranean – now we would disagree. Pericle Ducati brought the subject into the twentieth century; his emphasis on the significance of the whole artistic production of the area, including the situlae (highly decorated bucket shaped vessels), and on the connections with the Adriatic, were important stimuli. Scholarship after World War II debated the relevant importance of Etruria and the Adriatic as cultural influences, using stylistic comparisons, and sharpened chronologies. Bologna (ancient Felsina) became increasingly the focus of scholarly attention, and the pace of archaeological discovery has now picked up. The argument continues over the relative importance of southern Etruscan models and indigenous development. Recent finds (not incorporated in the catalogue) have further encouraged debate on iconography and symbolic meaning.

Having set the scene, Marchesi briefly introduces the catalogue, which is organised into four parts on stylistic criteria: IA artistically Villanovan; IB Orientalising; IIA stelai 'a disco' with a disc shape on top, and IIB a single cippus.

Each piece is presented with all the expected apparatus; context of the find, description, date and bibliography, with an exhaustive account of previous scholarship. The sculptures and accompanying finds, where they exist, are illustrated at the back of the book; iconographic parallels are helpfully illustrated on an accompanying CD.

A series of chapters then analyse the material more thematically. First, morphology. It had been suggested that the stelai reflected bronze shields, but none are found associated with them , and the interpretation favoured here is that the stelai are anthropomorphic and take on some degree of identity with the deceased person. The rectangular stelai are complex; the choice may have been motivated by decorative reasons, with a strong influence from north Syria, but all three that survive seem to have been reused early as building material, so did not maintain their communal significance, although Marchesi suggests they may have marked more than a single grave. The cippus, with a belt in relief, is strictly differentiated from the cippi of Reggio Emilia, to emphasise the autonomous development of Bologna. Two monuments from Polisportivo in Bologna are regarded as boundary markers ('segnacoli limitanei consecrati') and this leaves a head (the 'testa Gozzadini') which may have been part of a sphinx-like sculpture or some other hybrid, and a stele (Stele di San Varano) with a tree and two goats on one side and a sphinx on the other, which is described as particularly Phoenician in design.

The next chapter looks at the iconographic repertory, and takes each motif and each animal in turn; those depicted on the stelai include horses, deer, goats, lions (some winged), dogs (associated with the hunt), ducks and sphinxes. A particular feature is the 'sacred tree' which is often in the centre of the stele. This area of study is now being taken forward vigorously.1 Inevitably this leads on to the question of what the images mean symbolically, and a further chapter surveys the options. Themes of the passage between this world and the next, symbols of power and status, of the kingdom of the dead, of mother deities and fertility are prominent. Marchesi explores the evidence for an evolution of the symbolism. The relatively late (first quarter of the 6th century) Stele di via Augusto Righi (Bologna) with two warriors on foot and two on horseback, but none of the oriental vegetal or animal motifs, is connected with the imminent formation of a citizen body, and has moved away from symbolism of royalty or quasi-divine status.

The conclusion develops the narrative sequence. In the late 8th century, as an aristocracy developed in and around Bologna, the stelai 'a disco' emerge as a clear symbol of rank and power in larger burial grounds. Some, from the early 7th century, are completely different from the Villanovan style, and show a break with tradition. This new Orientalising iconographic array has close ties with north Syrian imagery from the 9th and 8th centuries, and is also adopted in the rest of Etruria. Marchesi argues that this phenomenon in Etruria Padana was contemporary with occurrences elsewhere in Etruria, and the parallels with the oriental originals are very close, which means that the argument that Etruria Padana was simply copying its southern neighbours is precluded; she hypothesises either the arrival of members of the elite from the East or at least direct ties. In the last third of the 7th century, boundary stones and cippi, as well as a change in iconography, imply a shift from highly restricted aristocratic groups to a more 'civic' authority, concerned with the delimitation of space. There are clear connections with the Ombrone and Arno valleys to the south, yet for Marchesi the role of Bologna needs to be given a more dynamic interpretation, and a more independent one. She concludes by noting that the burial of these monuments in the first part of the 6th century marks a complete break with this Orientalising past.

Two scientific appendices show that the stelai were originally painted. The book has a loose- leaf map showing the locations of the stelai.

The catalogue alludes to bigger arguments than it can fully address. The concept of an Orientalising phenomenon, which has been questioned outside Italian scholarship, is not challenged here and contacts with the East are presumed to be direct. As a whole the volume focuses more on parallels with the East than on connections with the North.2

The evidence shows the sharpness of the break between Villanovan and Orientalising motifs, and between Orientalising and Archaic decoration, and the challenges to established modes of thought and authority which may thereby be entailed. Inevitably one is left with questions over whether an art historical approach can map directly onto political change. This rather small sample of material is insufficient evidence on which to base a whole theory, but clearly our models need to account for quite radical changes in material culture; indeed more could perhaps have been made of examples of reuse, such as the recarving of the two Polisportivo monuments in the late 5th to 4th centuries, one showing Ajax's suicide. The material from this necropolis is of unusually high quality. If the recarved sculpture was drawing attention to the Hellenic claims of the commemorated individuals, did the cancelling of a preceding Orientalising style have any significance, or was it a sign of continuity and appropriation of the past?3

The later developments lead to questions about models of internal colonization in Etruria. This volume presents important material to contribute to that debate, especially at the later end of the chronological spectrum where one of the Rubiera cippi contains the word zilaθ, and so they have been thought to reflect Etruscan domination. On this model, the south would expand northwards in the 6th century BC, but colonization would be an odd way to describe this.4

The next step will be to put these monuments further into context with other material such as situla art, or the Verucchio throne, or for instance the zoomorphic protomes from urban Bologna, or the very interesting Orientalising ivory material.5 Marchesi has given us a solid base. Similarly we need to set developments in sculpture into the context of the contemporary infilling of the landscape, which presumably was part of the social and economic change which is then reflected in material culture.6

Meanwhile, the archaeological significance of Bologna continues to intrigue, as shown most recently by Ortalli's discovery of a large open space with an extraordinary pattern of postholes which has been dated to the Villanovan period, and Valentino Nizzo's exciting find of four 7th century tombs at Castenaso, a site which had already produced some material which could not be included here.7

This is therefore a valuable and suggestive volume, and all credit goes to the Comune di Bologna for producing it well, and affordably.


1.   M. C. Biella, E. Giovanelli, L. G. Perego (eds.), Il bestiario fantastico di età orientalizzante nella penisola italiana, Aristonothos Quaderni 1, (Trento, 2012); a further volume, Nuovi Studi sul Bestiario di Età Orientalizzante nella Penisola Italiana, edited by M. C. Biella and E. Giovanelli, is in preparation.
2.   P. Meller Padovani, Le stele villanoviane di Bologna (Brescia, 1977), which this catalogue replaces, compares the cippi with menhir statues. See also G. Sassatelli, 'I Veneti e l'Etruria padana' and A. Maggiani, 'I Veneti e l'Etruria tirrenica,' in M. Gamba (ed.) Venetkens: Viaggio nella terra dei Veneti antichi, (Padova, 2013), 119-37; D. Locatelli, 'Stranieri a Felsina e forse nella pianura ocidentale. Dinamiche di mobilità in Emilia nel VI secolo a.C.,' Annali Faina 20 (2013), 361-96.
3.   A. Maggiani, 'Modello etico o antenato eroico? Sul motivo di Aiace suicida nelle stele felsinee,' StEtr, 63 (1999), 149-165; E. Govi, 'Rinascere dopo la morte. Una scena enigmatica sulla stele n. 2 del sepolcreto Tamburini di Bologna,' Antenor Quaderni 20, Tra Protostoria E Storia: Studi In Onore Di Loredana Capuis (Rome, 2011), 195-207; C. Morigi Govi, G. Sassatelli, 'Il sepolcreto Etrusco del Polisportivo di Bologna: nuove stele funerarie,' Ocnus 1 (1993), 103-24 for the unusual nature of this necropolis.
4.   See G. Sassatelli, 'Gli Etruschi nella Valle del Po. Riflessioni, problemi e prospettive di ricerca,' Annali Faina 15 (2008), 71-114 for a very good account; the whole volume is on Etruscan colonization.
5.   P. van Eles, Le ore e i giorni delle donne : dalla quotidianità alla sacralità tra VIII e VII secolo a.C. (Verucchio, 2007); C. Taglioni, L'abitato Etrusco di Bologna (Bologna, 1999), 100 for the horse protomes; M. C. Bettini, 'Il gruppo eburneo con centauro dalla tholos di Montefortini a Comeana,' in Francesco Nicosia. L'archeologo e il soprintendente. Scritti in memoria. Notiziario della Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana. Supplemento 1 al n. 8/2012, 79-90 for a remarkable ivory centaur with a deer on its back from Comeana in the Arno Valley; S. Santocchino Gerg, 'Riflessioni sui contatti fra Etruria settentrionale e padana. Motivi e tecniche decorative tra VII e V sec. a.C.,' Ocnus 20 (2012), 223-52 on pottery with stamped decoration in the seventh and sixth centuries, much of it using 'Mischwesen' designs.
6.   See G. Sassatelli, 'Bologna etrusca e la sua espansione nel territorio tra Reno e Panaro,' in R. Burgio, S. Campagnari, L. Malnati (eds.) Cavalieri etruschi dalle valli al Po: tra Reno e Panaro, la valle del Samoggia nell VIII e VII secolo a. C. (Bologna, 2010), 27-36; D. Neri, Gli Etruschi tra VIII e VII secolo a.C. nel territorio di Castelfranco Emilia (MO) (Bologna, 2012).
7.   J. Ortalli, 'Strutture pubbliche e luoghi della politica alle origini della città. Un 'Campo Marzio' nella Felsina villanoviana?', Arch.Class. 64 (2013), 7-50. V. Nizzo at Castenaso: see scavo and scavo 7 for the earlier discoveries by L. Malnati and C. Cornelio.

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