Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mars of Todi - Etruscan art at its best

Despite having set foot in the Vatican Museums over five hundred times in my life, I had never visited the Vatican's Etruscan Museum until very recently. The Etruscan Museum is slightly off the beaten track for the average 2 to 2 1/2 tour. But recently a private group specifically requested it, which gave me a wonderful opportunity to do some exploring there.

By far the greatest and most important work in the museum is the striking Mars of Todi, a near life-size bronze of a warrior (found without his helmet), making an offering to the gods before a battle. It is an extremely rare and well-preserved example of Etruscan statuary art, and dates to the end of the 5th century BC. It was found in the Umbrian town of Todi in 1853 buried between four slabs of travertine.

While far from being an Etruscan scholar myself, unlike my talented friend and resident Etruscologist Theresa Potenza, it is not hard to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of this work. The Etruscans, a pre-Roman civilization, eventually and unfortunately wiped out by the power-hungry Romans, were strongly influenced by Greek art. They were highly skilled artisans, particularly in gold and bronze, to whom funerary rites were extremely important. Much of the recovered Etruscan art has been discovered within their large and intricately frescoed tombs in towns such as Cerverteri and Tarquinia: chariots, thrones, jewelry, hand mirrors, and many other artifacts.

Still, the Etruscans remain mysterious as their origins are not completely known. Even the Etruscan tongue, completely unrelated to any other known language and read from right to left, was not able to be translated until recently.

An interesting detail of this piece is its inscription, carved into the fringe of the warriors armour, very subtly seen to read "Ahal Trutitis dunum dede" or "Ahal Trutitis gave as a gift." Not the artist's signature but the donor's!

Photo sources: 1, 2
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