At the basis of the Etruscan religion there lay the fundamental idea that the fate of men was completely decided by the gods, mysterious and undefined supernatural beings. All natural phenomena, such as thunder or the flight of birds, were therefore an expression of divine will and contained a message to be interpreted in order to comply with the wishes of the gods. With this conception as their driving force, the Etruscans built up a complex system of codified ritual that they followed with extreme scrupulousness, to the extent that they became famous with other ancient peoples for their religiousness. From the 8th century BC, as contacts with Greek culture became more intense, there began a process of harmonization with the divinities of the Greek Olympus. However, this process did not lessen the specificity of the religious sentiment of the Etruscans and the sense of complete annulment of man before divine will.

The priests were the guardians of the doctrine and intermediaries between men and the gods. This caste played a very important role in the civil and religious guidance of the Etruscan communities. The priests had a particular costume, including a high semi-conical hat, and carried a stick curved at one end. They were divided into counsels and took part in all public activities, which for the Etruscans had a strong sacred significance. The scriptures consisted of books containing a complex and codified system of ritual rules. The main ones concerned: the interpretation of the entrails of animals, carried out by the Haruspices, the interpretation of lightning, carried out by the Augurs and the rules of behaviour to be followed in daily life. At the basis of Etruscan religious discipline was the division of the heavens into sixteen compartments: the dwelling-places of the gods. The favourable gods were in the east and the unfavourable ones in the west. Thus, as far as divination is concerned, every atmospheric event could be translated into a message from the divinity who dwelled in that place. Depending on the event, it could be an order, a good or an evil omen, or a sign of anger or discontent. This system of compartments was also reproduced on the livers of sacrificed animals, of which bronze models have come down to us: the will of the gods was deduced from the observation of their physical characteristics.

Religious architecture
The Etruscan temple, for the building of which precise rules were established, was characterized by an almost square floor plan. The front half consisted of a gallery with columns, the rear half was occupied by three chambers, which housed the statues of three divinities or by a single chamber flanked by two open wings. Except for the basement and foundations, light and perishable materials were used: unbaked bricks for the walls and wood for the structure. The temples had very wide and low double sloping roofs, with considerable lateral projection and the façade was dominated by an open or closed triangular fronton. The roof was completed by a complex system of terracotta decorative and protective elements, painted in bright colours and in full relief. These elements included the acroteria, which were placed on the top of the temple and at the corners of the sloping roofs, and the antefixa, which were positioned on top of the roofing tiles.

Etruscan art
Art for the Etruscans was always linked with daily life and had a practical more than an aesthetic purpose, to the extent that it is often referred to as artistic handicrafts. The Etruscans drew the majority of their subjects from Greek art, but they reworked them in more immediate, popular and decorative expressive forms. It was therefore a spontaneous art, which aimed at intensity of expression even at the cost of deforming natural reality. As far as painting is concerned, we have to talk of sacred art, as the paintings that have been found, the greatest number in the tombs at Tarquinia, are those which decorated the walls of the burial places.

Two distinct phases can be distinguished in pictorial representations. The first is characterized by extremely realistic representations, with the aim of giving a vital message with banquets, games, athletic contests and dances. These are serene and pleasant episodes, with decorative elements reconstructing the domestic environment. The second period became established between the 5th and 6th centuries BC, when the idea of the transmigration of the soul to the kingdom of the dead became popular. Mythological scenes then began to be dominant, with images evoking the world beyond the tomb and the demons that lived there. Etruscan painting usually tended to perpetuate standardized patterns, produced by painters who were skilful craftsmen rather than artists.

Typical features are the centrality of the human figure which dominates the setting; the use of solid and strong colours, which fill in areas outlined by thick lines using the fresco technique. For sculpture too, we have to talk of sacred art, as the discoveries consist of decorative elements of temples or tombs. Etruscan sculpture is closely linked with the modelling of clay. Stone sculptures also show traces of this fundamental technique and Etruscan sculptors indeed preferred working with soft stones. Etruscan sculpture is distinguished by the total absence of formal research. It is not of any value in itself as a work of art, but is of value for the practical meaning that can be given to it. The Etruscans were famous amongst their contemporaries for their bronze sculptures, which they produced using special casting processes. Although not much has come down to us, only some unique pieces such as the Chimera of Arezzo, the Capitoline she-wolf and the Haranguer, we can get an idea from these of a finely advanced art which remains a total mystery for us.


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