During my six-week study abroad term in Italy, I have the opportunity to visit many museums. Many of these museums cater to the history of Central Italy and more specifically the history of the Etruscans and Romans. Two of these museums really struck me due to specific Etruscan pieces and the layout of their museums: the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca (MAEC) in Cortona, Italy and the National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome. The MAEC is a smaller, local museum that holds a fair sized collection of Etruscan artifacts from the surrounding area along with pieces from the medieval period; whereas the National Etruscan Museum is specific to Etruscan artifacts.
On June 6th, I was able to visit the MAEC. In the MAEC, you are able to find the third longest known Etruscan inscription. The Tabula Cortonensis is an inscribed, bronze tablet from the 3rd of 2nd century BCE found near Cortona, Italy. The tablet was purposely broken into eight sections, however, the eighth section is now missing, leaving seven legible sections. The Tabula Cortonensis is a land transfer agreement between two parties.
The exact translation of the tablet is unclear considering the Etruscan language is not easy to understand. The language the Etruscans used was not Indo-European like Latin or Greek. However, the language uses a variation on the Greek alphabet brought over by the Euboeans. The Etruscan language can be read but the words cannot always be understood.
The placement of the Tabula Cortonensis in the MAEC resonated with me, rather than the piece itself. Like I mentioned earlier, the MAEC holds both Etruscan and medieval artifacts. Thus being said, a large majority of the Etruscan artifacts are in a newer, remodeled section of the museum that has interactive exhibits, models, and large display cases whereas the medieval artifacts are held in display cases, packed together leaving the visitor overwhelmed. The tablet is in the newly remodeled section of the museum.
The Tabula Cortonensis is in an exhibit room, dedicated to the tablet. It is enclosed in a glass case promptly in the middle of the room. By having the tablet towards the center of the room, visitors, myself included, are drawn towards the artifact. Also, since the tablet is within a glass case, it allows visitors to easily view both sides of the inscriptions.
There is a series of local artwork based on the Tabula Cortonenis that is showcased on the walls of the room. By placing the artwork in the same room as the tablet itself, I felt as if the importance of the tablet increased. I thought to myself, “Wow, this tablet is so important to the people of Cortona that they are recreating it through art thousands of years later! How neat is that?!”
The Tabula Cortonensis is a marketing point for the MAEC. The artwork and the tablet allow visitors, particularly locals, to connect with their ancestors and the history of the area. It also creates a sense of regional pride in the area.
On June 18th, I was able to visit the National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome. The museum, as the name states, is the museum for Etruscan artifacts around Italy. The Villa Giulia was built by Pope Julius III in 1551.
The National Etruscan Museum is organized in such a way that allows visitors to understand different groups of Etruscans without getting them confused. Below is a floor plan of the museum:
As shown on the floor plan, the museum is divided into nine sections. These nine sections represent nine Etruscan cities and groups. I was particularly interested in the Vulci section of the museum because it has a lot of information and artifacts based on Etruscan funerary practices.
Upon entering the Vulci rooms, visitors immediately see urns and funerary goods from the Villanovan period. The Villanovans were a warrior-farmers living in the 9th and 8th centuries BCE.
The Villanovans traditionally had two types of urns– the biconical and a hut urn. A biconical urn has a bottom to hold the ashes of a body and a top to keep the ashes contained. The urns can be decorated with metal chains to represent jewelry on the person or it can be plain.
As time goes on, the Villanovans made a transition from the two-story biconical urn to a terra cotta hut urn. The terra cotta hut urn was representative of the wattle and daub huts the Villanovans lived in during the Early Iron Age.
Shown above is both a biconical urn and a Villanovan hut urn. As you can see, the hut urn provides much more detail than the biconical urn. This particular hut urn is made of bronze and contains small detailed decorations. These details could be used for decorations or they could be part of a specific example of a Villanovan hut.
The thing I liked about the National Etruscan Museum the most was how and why they organized the museum the way they did. The museum is organized from the beginning of the Villanovan culture in Vulci moving onward through the time of the Etruscans. Visitors get a clear understanding of the order in which Etruscan history is presented without being lost in the materials presented.