Classics Etruscan Wall Painting
Lisa Pieraccini
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0137


For centuries, artists, archaeologists, scholars, and poets have been captivated by the beautiful images found on the painted walls of Etruscan tombs. These paintings offer an extraordinary look at the earliest examples of monumental painting in ancient Italy (a corpus that has not survived in the Greek world). In quantity, only the Roman paintings of Pompeii are comparable. The striking images shed much light on the fascinating world of the Etruscans and provide us with intimate details regarding daily life, funerary ritual, and the murky world of the afterlife. The earliest tomb paintings date to the early 7th century BCE and are found in Cerveteri and Veii, but it was Tarquinia that would take the lead in tomb painting from the 6th century BCE onward. Inland centers like Chiusi, Orvieto, and Sarteano also produced tomb paintings offering their own style and subject matter in the world of Etruscan wall painting. Thus, this article is organized first by general treatments, articles, catalogues, and bibliographies, then by city, since different regions in Etruria produced paintings based on their own economic and artistic development. Etruscan wall painting offers one of the most colorful and intimate entrances into the life and afterlife of the Etruscans.

General Overviews and Seminal Studies

The first well documented and detailed treatment of Etruscan tomb painting in English is found in Dennis 1848. Pallottino 1952 offers an informative assessment with rich color illustrations. However, Steingräber 1986, a landmark catalog of tombs, presents the best and most complete descriptions of painted tombs with useful details and illustrations along with bibliographies of every tomb known at the time of publication. Likewise, Steingräber 2006 is an up-to-date appraisal of known tombs and new tombs with a comprehensive review of tomb painting as a whole accompanied by an extensive bibliography. Therefore, Steingräber should be consulted for all the individual cities discussed in this article, as the author treats all of these tombs in the catalog Steingräber 1986 and the book Steingräber 2006. In addition, the author treats the painted tombs from smaller centers in Steingräber 2006, like the Cima Tomb of San Giuliano. Colonna 1989 and Naso 2010 discuss origins of tomb painting. Naso 2005 and Roncalli 2000 provide general yet valuable overviews of wall painting traditions in Etruria. Torelli 2008 is a compilation of articles dedicated to wall painting in the Hellenistic period.

  • Colonna, Giovanni. 1989. Gli Etruschi e “l’invenzione” della pittura. In Pittura etrusca al Museo di Villa Giulia nelle foto di Takashi Okamura. Edited by M. A. Rizzo, 19–25. Rome: De Luca.

    A crucial read for graduate students interested in the early development of tomb painting, especially with regard to vase painting.

  • Dennis, George. 1848. The cities and cemeteries of Etruria. London: John Murray.

    One of the earliest works dedicated to describing ancient tombs of Etruria with lots of details concerning tomb architecture and decor.

  • Naso, Alessandro. 2005. La pittura etrusca. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider.

    A very brief and informative guide to Etruscan wall painting. Naso traces chronology, style, and topography from the Orientalizing to the Hellenistic period.

  • Naso, Alessandro. 2010. Origins of tomb painting in Etruria. Ancient West and East 9:63–86.

    An invaluable assessment of the origin of early wall painting in Etruria—indispensable reading for the undergraduate graduate student.

  • Pallottino, Massimo. 1952. Etruscan painting. Geneva, Switzerland: Skira.

    An instructive and valuable analysis of Etruscan wall painting with colored plates and explanatory chapters. The introductory chapter should be read by all undergraduates.

  • Roncalli, Francesco. 2000. Painting. In The Etruscans. Edited by Mario Torelli, 345–363. New York: Rizzoli.

    A concise and thorough survey of wall painting in Etruria with special attention to chronology, style, and subject matter. A very valuable tool for undergraduate and graduate students.

  • Steingräber, Stephan. 2006. Abundance of life: Etruscan wall painting. Translated by Russell Stockman. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

    An elegantly illustrated compilation of some of the most famous tombs from the Orientalizing to the Hellenistic period with an up-to-date bibliography and useful indexes.

  • Steingräber, Stephan, ed. 1986. Etruscan painting: Catalogue raisonné of Etruscan wall painting. New York: Johnson Reprint.

    A landmark account with authoritative and well-illustrated descriptions of every painted tomb known at the time of publication. This English language edition is edited by David Ridgway and Francesca Serra Ridgway and is a must read for anyone interested in Etruscan painted tombs.

  • Torelli, Mario, ed. 2008. Special issue: Atti delle giornate di studio Pittura ellenistica: Immagini, letture, messaggi. Ostraka 16.1.

    This entire journal is dedicated to the painted tombs of the Hellenistic period and a vital source for information for anyone interested in tomb painting throughout Etruria.

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