Performance and Visual Culture in Etruria: 7th - 2nd Century BC

Layton, Stephanie, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Smith, Tyler Jo, McIntire Department of Art, University of Virginia

The Etruscan iconographic record is the primary source of information regarding performance activities, which include dance, music, gaming, ritual, spectacle, and athletics. In this study, performance theory is used as a framework for analyzing Etruscan material culture related to emically constructed and provisionally identified performance activities and ascertaining their meaning. Although evidence for Etruscan cultural activity, beliefs, and social interaction is limited, especially given the paucity of textual information, the application of performance theory to the archaeological record provides a means to analyze public and private transmission of messages, relationships, experiences, and cultural behaviors primarily in funerary and civic contexts. Although numerous Etruscan performances have been investigated individually by prior scholarship, performance theory has not been previously applied to Etruscan art and architecture and, therefore, this work takes a new approach towards the analysis of the archaeological record.

Evidence included in this study dates between the 8th-2nd centuries BC and consists of wall painting, painted and relief vase decoration, stone and terracotta relief sculpture, engraved gems, and bronze mirrors, decorative attachments, figurines, and vessels. It is only through the study of such varied materials from a wide chronological range that a more complete understanding of Etruscan performance emerges. Following an overview of performance theory and its application to Etruscan visual culture, the remaining chapter are organized thematically, including investigations of Etruscan music and dances, play and games, and spectacle.

An investigation of Etruscan performances reveals information about Etruscan relationships, beliefs, and about the communication of messages. Performance activities occur primarily in connection with Etruscan funerary events, due in part to the nature of Etruscan material record, but civic, mythological, and everyday contexts are also identified. Although both small- and large-scale performances are represented in the iconographic evidence, large-scale events appear with greater frequency. Most performance iconography dates to the Archaic Period in Etruria, the 6th and 5th centuries BC, although its nature changes throughout all media, beginning in the 4th century BC; many performance-related motifs are abandoned at this time, including banqueting, bands of revelers, and large-scale athletic competitions. Late Etruscan performance iconography focuses on processions, especially in relation to the journey to the underworld in death.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Etruria, Etruscan, performance, dance, music, games, play, spectacle, procession, banquet, Italy, sports, athletics, iconography, theater, Social sciences
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