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Girls Will Be Boys? Investigating Images Of Athletic Women In Ancient Etruscan Art

  • 29 Sep 2021
  • 7:00 PM (EDT)
  • Virtual

Girls Will Be Boys? Investigating Images Of Athletic Women In Ancient Etruscan Art

AIA Society: Central Indiana
Lecturer: Bridget Sandhoff

Any mention of the human body in the art of classical antiquity often conjures up images of well-muscled Greek athletes such as Polykleitos’s Doryphoros, Myron’s Diskobolos and the Riace bronzes. The primacy of the idealized nude male body is ubiquitous in Hellenic culture. Indeed, Greece typically becomes the benchmark from which everything in the ancient world is compared. The Greeks influence stretches far and wide, and it certainly inspired the Etruscans. No one can deny the impact that Greek culture had on Etruria; the Etruscan fascination with Greece encompassed their social practices, material culture, religion and deities, and artistic models. Though Etruria emulated multiple facets of Greek civilization, scholars have successfully proven that the Etruscans modified Greek models to fit their own, distinctive needs. The same is true for Etruscan representations of the human body.

The artistic record provides a wealth of information from which we can determine how the Etruscans viewed the body and recorded it. A general survey of their art shows a clear debt to Greek examples. Yet, a closer examination reveals a distinctive somatic aesthetic for women that flouts conventional paradigms. Unlike the Greeks, women feature prominently in Etruscan art. Moreover, female representations are just as diverse as the male ones, ranging from elaborately clothed women to nude females rife with muscle. On several occasions, nude men accompany the muscular women, who mirror each other in size, stance, and nudity.

This lecture examines the nude, athletic female somatotype that becomes popular in fourth century B.C. Etruria, its frequent pairing with a nude, male partner, and the reason for such imagery. The analysis employs artwork as the primary evidence, where most of these women and male/female pairs are shown: engraved bronze mirrors, Praenestine cistae, and various bronze implements. Based on this brief study, I believe that the sporty female was created intentionally. A robust female physique transmitted relevant information to the onlooker, one of health, fitness, and beauty. A fit body coincided with the ability to bear children and raise them to adulthood. As a result, marriage became critical because it allowed for the creation of family, the cornerstone of Etruscan society. Family was the main vehicle through which life continued. Young Etruscan couples and their children cemented the belief that their family names would continue on into the future, and hopefully, be remembered for generations.


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