Today we talked about the history of the Borghese family’s property, and also spent some time examining the Etruscans. We went over quite a bit on our museum tour, so this post is a necessarily incomplete record.

The Borghese park’s history

  • Geographically outside the city of Rome in antiquity.
  • Also outside the city of Rome in the 1600s, when it was acquired by the Borghese family.
  • Was originally an active vineyard. Then bought by a very powerful/influential family: the Borghese family.
  • The Borghese were part of the “humanist movement” in the Renaissance. They were religious, but looked back towards classical texts, and other things that are not in the realm of religion.
  • The name of the man who made the purchase was Scipione Borghese.
    • He was a cardinal in the Catholic Church, and the nephew of the pope at that time.
    • Bernini was supported by him.
  • Scipione turns the vineyard into a “suburban villa.”
    • A retreat from the noise, chaos, and disease of the city.
    • The concept of the suburban villa was not an original concept to the Renaissance, but dates far back. Cf. the gardens of Sallust.
    • Dotted with palaces, sculpture, landscaping – used to show off the wealth and art of the Borghese family.
  • The land was privately owned by the family and passed down: 1603–1903. Then it was bought by the state.
    • Late 19th/early 20th century: wealthy families no longer as wealthy as before. Having problems affording taxes and upkeep.
    • Make a deal with the state: donate some property, and avoid taxes on other properties. Keep some of the family wealth.
  • Lucullus may have owned this land in the late republic. Lucullus was known as an extravagant host.
    • Sets precedence for what Scipione does in the Renaissance: continuity of use.

The park museum’s architecture, and a brief intro to architectural types

  • This building was originally a palazzo that Scipione built, but now it is an art museum. It contains a trio of sculpture by Bernini, one of them being Apollo and Daphne.
  • This building dates to 1613: latter-period Renaissance (“rebirth”) architecture.
    • Renaissance begins in Italy in the early 1400s.
    • Reconnecting with the formal styles of classical antiquity.
    • Particular focus on art (sculpture and the ideal human form), but also extends to architecture.
    • So when talking about Renaissance architecture, talking about reuse of classical motifs.
    • Renaissance style obssessed with ideas of harmony, rhythym, and proportion.
      • Harmony: mirror symmetry.
      • Rhythm: squared windows, sequence of arches.
      • Proportion: two sections, top and bottom, “same mass.”
    • Renaissance vs. Baroque: same basic architectural elements, but Baroque architecture is much more flamboyant.
    • Not only copying classical antiquity, but spoliating. A sarcophagus, statues, etc.

Another example: an aviary

  • Keeping exotic birds was fashionable.
  • Eagles and dragons are the crests of the Borghese family.
    • Things sponsored by and paid for by them are thus likely to have eagles and dragons on them.
    • Putting their family crests on their private homes may at first seem somewhat strange. However, it isn’t really all that odd: when entertaining people they want to appear wealthy, powerful, and in charge.
  • Compared to the museum discussed above: more extravagant, more detailed, more crowded, but still flat front. Early Baroque, not full realization of form.

Architectural folly

  • Folly: a piece of architecture in the landscape that serves no real practical purpose.
    • There purely for visual pleasure.
  • Follies only exist in private spaces: are the political propaganda of the family.
  • This one: belongs to 1700s. But columns, Latin inscription.
    • Conscious invocation of the past.
  • There are a couple reasons to do this:
    • Powerful families want the powerful symbolism.
    • Part of being a humanist was rediscovering the literature of antiquity, particularly through the lens of the classical languages themselves. The Latin inscription thus shows them to be well-educated.

Extreme folly

  • This folly is more elaborate: a fake lake, fake island, and fake ancient temple.
  • Temple to Asklepios
    • More fancy than prior folly. More complete.
    • Classical iconography.
  • Hydraulic engineering
    • Cf. antiquity: Renaissance people would pick up on the connection between Roman engineering and the lake and fountains of this folly.

A brief overview of the Etruscans

  • At one point the Etruscans were quite powerful: control of the areas around Tuscany, Rome, Naples; far-flung trading partners.
  • We know much of what we know about Greeks and Romans through copies of texts. Unfortunately, there is a great paucity of texts to help us gain similar insight for the Etruscans.
  • The Etruscans did write, but their texts simply didn’t get copied as the centuries passed on. Therefore, we lack substantial texts to get a firsthand account.
  • So we have to rely on external sources, but there aren’t that many of these either.
  • There is a degree of ambiguity when it comes to the Etruscans.
    • We are not 100% sure what they called themselves.
    • One Greek source says that the Etruscans were Greeks, another says that they were from Lydia (Asia Minor), and another says that they were actually Italic all along. Therefore, we are also not entirely sure where they come from.
    • With this being said, some scholars are convinced (based on mitochondrial DNA studies and the genetics of Italic cattle) that the Etruscans migrated from the Eastern Mediterranean. Others disagree, naturally.
  • The Etruscans were not at all monolithic. Looking for a single cultural form is thus asking the wrong question to begin with.
  • The best sources about the Etruscans come from their material culture.
    • Art, sculpture, painting, jewelry
    • But also cookpots, instruments, tools, etc.
    • Essentially, everything left to us in the archaeological record.
  • Large scale bronze, ceramics
  • Particularly interested in how the Etruscans influenced the Romans.
    • Religion: augury
    • Togas
    • House and temple design
  • Understanding what we can about the Etruscans helps us fill in our understanding of how the Romans developed.

Etruscan architecture

  • Somewhat limited in what we know since the Etruscans built only sparingly in stone: foundation, not superstructure. The superstructure used wood and mud-brick.
  • What comes down to us is the stone platform on which things were built and decorations made out of terra cotta.
  • Typically, Etruscan temples are made on an elevated platform. 2 feet; 5 feet; maybe even 7 feet.
  • Traditionally, only a single set of steps.
    • Project axis out into landscape.
    • Altar outside on axis.
  • Mount the steps: go between columns. The columns were typically wooden shafts with decorative elements on top. The capitals, being terra cotta, survived when the shafts did not.
  • Room at the top of the podium: cella.
    • Inside: statue of a god/goddess: cult statue. There could be 100 statues in the temple, but the single cult statue is thought to be the embodied form of the god.
    • Widely varying numbers of cellae (a temple could have more than one). Each cella has a cult statue though.
  • Pitched roof forms an angle, and has water drain from sides when raining.
    • Pediment: triangular face that fills in the space of the pitched roof on the front and back of the temple.
    • Terra cotta plaques on the borders of the pediment. Decorative, but also help to preserve the wood of the pediment.
  • Akroteria: sculptures on the roof of the building, purely decorative. Corner of roof, along ridge beam.
  • Temples had extended eaves (roof extends out past structure): keep water away from the mud-brick walls.
    • Antefixes: sculptures that broke the flow of water off the roof. Serve to concentrate the flow = higher velocity, gets water further away from the mud-brick walls.
  • Prostyle (“column-before”): roughly half of the ground-plan is porch and half cellae, with columns out front. The cellae are enclosed, while the porch is open with columns.
  • Architrave: connects the columns in the front (crossing beam, horizontal).

The Villa Julia

  • Named after pope Julius III, 1550–1555.
    • Not exactly the best of people, but this building was a good thing. He brought in some important artists of his time, including Michaelangelo.
  • Went from private to public, taken over by the state. It was decided that it would house materials related to the Etruscans.
  • Recall that Roman culture was an amalgam of the Latin, Etruscan and Greek cultures.
  • Ancient term for decorative water feature: nymphaeum.
    • Renaissance and later: grotto (Italian for cave), since many are intentionally designed to look like caves.
    • Complete with sculpture, mosaics, gold, etc.: elevating the natural.
  • Antiquity: water piped into one’s house was a status symbol. Thus, so too in Renaissance.

Etruscan objects in the Villa Julia

  • We had a guided tour by Dr. Ingrid Edlund-Berry, an emerita professor from UGA who has and does research the Etruscans.
    • She started by giving us general advice for museums: museums can easily get overwhelming with room after room, case after case. Rather than getting overwhelmed, try to pick out a few things to focus in on.


  • As mentioned above, the Etruscans were not at all monolithic, but were extremely diverse.
  • There were 12–15 big Etruscan cities, depending on how you count.
  • Collections organized around individual donors or “types of object” (regardless of provenance) is not nearly as helpful in informing us about the Etruscans as having pieces with their full context.
  • Rome was right on the southern outskirts of Etruscan civilization.
    • There is a debate as to how much influence they had on the Romans.
  • Etruscans used tufa, not really marble or limestone like the Greeks and Romans.
  • The Etruscans were fascinated with Greek vases.
    • There was trade, buying and selling. To afford the Greek pottery, the Etruscans must have been at least relatively prosperous.
    • Etruscans sold metals (raw, works) to afford their imports.
    • Irony: more and better specimens of Greek pottery preserved in Etruscan tombs than in Greece!
    • Developed a school of pottery to copy the Greek vases. Cheaper for the people that could not afford the real thing.

The Etruscan city of Vulci

  • Objects are primarily from tombs: things protected by being underground.
  • Bucchero: way of turning pottery black.
  • Container for ashes from cremation: some vases, but also “huts” as containers.
    • Give us an idea about Etruscan architecture which is hard to study directly due to the perishable building materials they used.
  • Tomb group: placement of how objects were found. Can give important contextual information.
  • Votive pits: collections of ceramic body parts in tombs.
    • Gifts to the gods: either as requests or thanks for healing.
    • Cf. lighting candles in churches.

The Etruscan city of Cerveteri

  • Monumental tombs, mounds
  • Red pottery, different from the aforementioned black pottery due to firing technique.
  • As above, there were also imported vases. When the Greeks developed red-figure vases later, they too were imported.
  • Water carrying vases from this city: scenes from mythology. Below is an example of the type; this particular vase is showing the blinding of Polyphemus.
  • Sometimes it is not possible to identify the scene. It could be from a Greek source we don’t have access too, or maybe even from the Etruscan’s own mythology.
  • Another source of mythology, interestingly, is from the backs of mirrors. These were evidently a common tomb gift.
  • Burial container, like a sarcophagus
  • Couch, soft mattress, pillow. People reclining: one male, one female.
    • The male has the telling sign of the beard.
    • The female has the telling signs of a tight fitting cap, longer hair, and a pierced ear.
  • Assumption: husband and wife, buried in tomb together.
  • Taken as evidence that the status of women in Etruria was very high.
  • For the Etruscans, bigger elements are supposed to draw attention. Like headlines in a newspaper: size and emphasis.
  • Elements borrowed from Greek world: archaic style.
    • Human styling, strict repetition in details like hair and clothing, etc.
  • The Etruscans used the best materials for gifts to their gods, if they could afford it.
    • Pyrgi – harbor town for Cerveteri where two fine temples were found.
  • Thin, inscribed gold sheets from Pyrgi:
    • Found rolled up.
    • Nail holes. Must have been hung.
    • Of the 3 of them, 2 are in Etruscan, and 1 is in Phoenician.
  • Deity mentioned: Uni.
    • Etruscan version of Hera/Juno.
  • Also has name of the king of Cerveteri, and says something to the effect of the third year of his reign. These things alone give us much-needed information on the Etruscan political organization (at least in a particular point in time for this one of the cities).
  • The thought is that the inscriptions were some sort of offering to the goddess.
  • We have some other Etruscan texts preserved, but most are funerary inscriptions, and very short.
  • The main texts that are not funerary inscriptions were religious texts, especially those dealing with calendars.

The Etruscan city of Veii

  • The southernmost Etrurian city.
  • Prominent school of artisans in Veii, sculptors. Some individuals commissioned by Rome.
  • Was an archenemy of Rome for a time.