Rome And Etruria – The Temple

At the same time temples were substituted in Rome for altars and open-air shrines, also in imitation of Etruscan models, because the Tuscan porticoed form in place of the Greek peripteral scheme was followed. At Satricum, on the contrary, the Greek model prevailed, at about the same time. Still, it was impossible to get away from Greek influence. The terra-cotta decorations show that archaic Greek works served as models to the Etruscans not only in the gable and frieze sculptures but in the ornamental de-tails. The recent excavations of the temple of Apollo at Thermon in Greece, where the columns and entablatures and gables were of wood faced and decorated with terra-cotta, have fully illustrated these Greek originals. Perhaps Capua, so strongly Hellenic, though conquered by the Etruscans and held by them until the fifth century (433 B.C.) , and Caere, an essentially Greek city even after its annexation to Etruria, were the two greatest centers, one south, the other north, for this fusion of Greek and Etruscan art which reacted on Rome.

Pliny says that in his time “at Rome and in our municipal towns, we still see many such (early terra-cotta figured) pediments of temples; wonderful, also, for their workmanship, their artistic merit and great age.” Roman writers have even handed down the names of the Etruscan artists who made some of the more famous of the earliest of these works, such as Volcanius of Veii (or Turianus of Fregellae) called to Rome by Tarquinius Priscus to make the statue of Hercules “fictilis” mentioned as late as Martial and the cult statue of Jupiter for the projected Capitoline temple. Other Etruscan artists were called by Tarquinius Superbus to make the triumphal quadriga with the statue of Jupiter to crown the gable of the temple, and the figures inside the gable. Of remaining Etruscan works the fictile sarcophagus at the British Museum, the similar one also from Caere in the Louvre and their almost exact counterpart recently set up in the Etruscan museum in Rome, will come the nearest to giving an idea of the style of these Capitoline works, if we supply the original brilliant polychromy of which a few beautifully painted sarcophagi in the Corneto and Florence museums will give us the key. The Satrican temple terra-cottas were in some cases brilliantly colored when found. There are also for comparison those curious archaic gable sculptures from the temples of the Athenian acropolis destroyed by the Persians. These are of stone, to be sure, but the surface was so covered with stucco and polychromy that the effect was not far different: with the earliest Delphi sculptures they give Greek prototypes for such Etrusco-Roman gables and friezes as were found at Velletri, etc.

The temple of Jupiter Capitolinus can hardly be said to represent the normal Etruscan type: rather an elaboration of it in the direction of the Hellenic peristyle temple. The only large temple whose ruins have been found in Etruria is the larger one at Falerii, which has been identified with the famous temple of Juno. It has the same plan as the Capitoline temple, and as it certainly does not date later than the third century B.C. it is a valuable aid in reconstituting the Roman temple. The scheme is of three cellas dedicated to the Capitoline Triad with a portico of three rows of six columns extending along the sides of the outer cellas with two other columns on each side.

There is no reason to suppose, however, that while the Etruscans built their main temples on the triple-cella scheme, they did not use the single cella for other divinities. Also, in the case even of triple cellas of smaller dimensions, it is probable that the norm was that described by Vitruvius of four columns in the portico instead of six. This is the scheme of the best-preserved façade at Norchia, which gives so graphically the wide spaced Doric columns of the terra-cotta gable groups of sculpture.

The proportions are those which we must assign to the majority of the temples in Rome built before the Punic wars. The gables, the architraves, the cornices, the columns were usually of wood, with a revetment of terra-cotta, fastened to the wood by nails. Revetments with nail holes have been found in quantities. Those at Falerii and Alatri were sufficient to reconstitute most of the details of the temple; the originals can be studied at the Papa Giulio. Of course, having so light a weight to support, the columns were widely spaced, too much so for beauty and symmetry. In fact the Etruscan temple can hardly be praised either from a structural or an esthetic point of view. The first improvement probably came up into Latium from the south in the form of stone columns coated with fine stucco, in temples built probably by Greek architects. Elements for this second Greek wave can be found in Southern Latium but not in Etruria.

In one thing I hardly think that the debt of Rome to Etruria has been understood, I mean in the matter of decorative detail in architecture. Take, for instance, merely the question of capitals. The popular fallacy, — long since abandoned by scholars, — that the Tuscan Doric was the sole Etruscan order is contradicted by the most cursory glance at the monuments. The hybrid forms of Ionic, of composite and of figured capitals, such as we find in rather rococo Roman works of the age of Caracalla, have here their Etruscan prototypes.

There is a rich variety of material for reconstituting the terra-cotta friezes and gable sculptures of the temples; but aside from the earliest examples from Satricum and Capua they date between the fourth and the second centuries B.C. Recently discovered are those found at Città d’Alba, near Sassoferrato, the ancient Sentinum which I will illustrate here, though it is an Umbrian city. They are in a Hellenistic style which seems to have prevailed throughout nearly all Italy, based probably on models from Alexandria or Asia Minor. With less action but greater purity and reticence are the gable sculptures from that northernmost of Etruscan cities on the Mediterranean coast, Luna, now at the Florence museum. The Hellenic exquisiteness of its type is even surpassed by some of the corresponding fragments from Falerii, especially a head of Apollo, at the Papa Giulio, which I regret not being able to reproduce.

After gathering in the museums of Rome and Florence these illuminating data, and after studying the full-sized model of the small temple of Alatri set up in the court of the Papa Giulio museum, those who are curious to follow up the study should take a trip to the rock-cut tombs of Castel-d’Asso, near Viterbo, or those of Norchia and Bieda, near Vetralla. The tomb façades are here often hewn in the form of temple façades, filled in some cases with gable sculptures.