Favorite Artwork Fact File

What is your favorite Italian artwork? Share your top painting, sculpture, or design by an Italian artist, or your favorite fresco, building, or monument located in Italy. 

Today, IASblog launches the Favorite artwork Fact File (#FAFF). Though faff usually indicates “a great deal of ineffectual activity,” we know you agree that pondering Italian art and architecture is a wonderful use of one’s time. So, send us the name of your favorite example of Italian art, design, or architecture, and we will feature it in a dedicated blog post. Don’t forget to tell us why you love it, including your favorite detail.

To get you started, in the next few weeks we will feature our some of staff’s favorite artworks…


Costanza Beltrami, IASblog staff writer

What is your favorite artwork? The wall paintings in the Tomba dei Leopardi (Tomb of the Leopards) in the Etruscan Necropolis of Tarquinia (Lazio), dated to ca.470–460 BCE.

…and your favorite detail? I like the figure holding up an egg on the right hand side of the composition: the movement is very elegant, yet completely mysterious to a modern viewer.

Why? I visited the Necropolis of Tarquinia just once, during a seaside holiday in Tuscany when I was about ten. It was a very hot day, and all the grass in the archaeological park around the tombs was burnt to an even yellow. Climbing down into the cool of this Tomb and discovering the brilliant reds and greens of its 2500-year-old paintings was an unforgettable experience.

IASblog (Costanza) explains…
The Etruscan civilization emerged in the 9th century BCE in the marshy region contained between the river Arno, the Tiber, and the Appenine mountains. The origins of this population are still mysterious: while the archaeological record suggests that they were an indigenous population, ancient writers such as Herodotus described their migration to Italy from the eastern Mediterranean or Asia Minor. Equally surprising is the fact that the Etruscans spoke a non-Indo-European language, a rare survival from the prehistoric Mediterranean world before the Indo-European invasions of the 2nd millennium BCE.

In the 8th century, Etruscan cities such as Tarquinia emerged as powerful city states. We can glean some information on social changes in this period by studying burial sites, where larger and more decorated tombs suggest the emergence of a ruling elite. Nevertheless, only the very greatest could afford wall paintings, for only 62 of the 5735 tombs rediscovered in Tarquinia feature them.

Among the better preserved burials of the Necropolis, The Tomb of the Leopards dates to the 5th century, when Tarquinia became the leader of the Etruscan twelve-city league. Tarquinia had close commercial contacts with Athens, importing luxury goods such as Greek painted vases, which are often depicted in tombs.

The Tomb of the Leopards is the best preserved among the Greek-influenced tombs of 6th century BCE. Its name derives from the two opposing leopards depicted in the upper section of the painting, on the front wall of the burial chamber. Below is a lively banquet scene, set in an outdoor pavilion. Richly dressed men and women are served by naked attendants, while musicians play the cithara and flutes to the left and right of the banquet scene. Following an ancient Greek and Egyptian convention, women are represented as fair-skinned, men as dark. The verdant wreath held by a woman on the left side of the painting, and the egg held by the man on the far right, are symbols of regeneration, celebrating the unending cycle of life, rather than mourning the death of a single individual.

References: Marco Rendeli. “Tarquinia.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T083386; Mauro Cristofani, et al. “Etruscan.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T026914.

Wall paintings, Tomb of the Leopards, c. 470-c. 460 BC, Necropolis of Monterozzi, Tarquinia.

Now it’s your turn. What is your favorite artwork? And your favorite detail of it? Why? Send us your answers by clicking the “Submit” button, and we will feature your favorite in a post.

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