2015 American Association for Italian Studies Annual Conference, University of Colorado, Boulder
IAS-Sponsored Session

More than Mere Playthings: The Minor Arts of Italy I: Etruscan Italy

UMC 247
Thursday, March 26, 2015, 1:00-2:15pm

Organizer and Chair: Julia C. Fischer, Lamar University

Abstract for the joint sessions:
The minor arts refer to any art form besides the fine arts of architecture, painting, and sculpture. Though highly praised and valued at the time of their creation, the minor arts remain marginalized in art historical scholarship. Recent studies have attempted to bring the minor arts back to the forefront. For example, Marina Belozerskaya, Kenneth Lapatin, and Marian H. Feldman have revealed the relationships between the minor arts and reception, contextualization, and portability. This session is intended to expand upon the current scholarship and also seeks to discard the modern division between minor arts and fine arts, thereby returning these less known art objects to the mainstream. Papers are welcome to explore a variety of time periods and artistic media of the minor arts, such as reliquaries, mirrors, cameos, jewelry, and figurines. Papers can also approach the topic of the minor arts from a variety of perspectives, including reception, patronage, gender issues, propaganda, and iconography.


Melissa Hempel, Utah Valley University

The figurine has played a significant role in daily life and personal collections throughout history, but has held a lesser place in the canon of art. The breadth of creation and variety should garner more attention and credit. Spanning materials from metal to porcelain, and tracing historic rituals, and modern day collecting, figurines connect cultures and time periods, a large task for a small object.

Found as grave goods in Etruscan tombs and now appropriated in global, contemporary art, the figurine adapts to provide context and perspective for artists, historians and archeologists. They are relevant from the Bronze Age to contemporary society. Once paid attention to, the figurine seems ever-present, as it must have in previous time periods. Examining recent discoveries, newly uncovered questions, and alternative meanings help to place figurines more predominately in art history. Perhaps now, their seemingly ordinary quality can be seen as their greatest attribute

Bridget Sandhoff, University of Nebraska Omaha
"Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: Reflections on Etruscan Bronze Mirrors"

Engraved bronzed mirrors, primarily female objects, are ubiquitous in Etruscan art. Despite their frequency, Etruscan mirrors often take the backseat to more “significant” art forms such as tomb painting, architectural sculpture, sarcophagi, or religious sites. While these major works certainly help reconstruct Etruscan life, the “trivial” mirror can provide just as significant, if not more, insight into Etruscan society. Based on these mirrors and other beauty aids, the Etruscans viewed adornment and fashion, or the feminine arts, very differently. It was not an expression of vanity but held greater implications for a woman’s family and Etruria.

This paper explores the significance of beauty within ancient Etruria by examining specific mirrors, their imagery, and their usage in life and the afterlife. Fortunately, much work has been devoted to cataloging all known Etruscan mirrors, and to studying the imagery/iconography engraved on their non-reflective sides. These studies, however, tend to divorce the artwork from its context and original purpose. At its most basic level, a mirror was a reflective surface that allowed women (and men) to inspect their appearances. Mirrors were handled, manipulated, and used on a daily basis and therefore, could communicate a potent message. It is my belief that beauty was not a frivolous matter but a collective concern of the family, the community and Etruria, and mirrors were critical in conveying this ideology.

Katie Rask, University of Tennessee Knoxville
"Devotional Labor: Making Luxury Textiles and Dressing the Gods in Ancient Italy"

Building on recent work concerning Etrusco-Italic textile production in sacred contexts, this paper examines the religious contexts of textile weaving in ancient Italy. More specifically, it considers the creation of textiles ultimately intended for the gods or sacred events, such as the peplophoroi festivals known in Greece.  As luxury items, textiles required an dedicated labor as well as expensive materials, frequently including silk, gold, and silver. Both texts and archaeological remains attest to the presence of such magnificent items in sanctuaries and shrines throughout the Mediterranean. Moreover, excavated weaving tools point to the production of textiles within Italian sanctuaries, outside of domestic and private spheres. Several recent studies have emphasized the significant role that the weaving of fabric played in pre-Roman sanctuary contexts; rather than evidence for individual dedication, it has been argued that textile tools point to communal dedications and production. Indeed, in both Italy and Greece textile production played a significant role in the relationships formed between communities and their deities. At the same time, we must wonder at the religious experience of the weavers themselves.

Greek sources suggest that these hours at the loom could be chatty affairs, with bouts of story-telling and the sharing of myths. Architectural remains in south Italy suggest that women performed this task in special buildings within the sanctuary itself. In most cases, the process of weaving textile dedications does not qualify as ritual (as many scholars define it), but the activity was certainly religious. Unfortunately, we will never know how the women creating these fabric arts viewed their activity, a perplexing issue given that in this case women participated in ‘work’ within a distinctly religious sphere. In fact, it seems that in many cases the production process itself performed a role in pleasing the god. In other words, the work of making the textile may have been votive in nature. As a solution for conceptualizing this behavior, I argue that the weaving of these rich fabrics constitutes a sort of ‘devotional labor.’

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