National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, Rome, Italy

The National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia is a museum in Rome dedicated to the Etruscan and Faliscan civilization, housed since the beginning of the twentieth century in Villa Giulia. The Museum, owned by the MiBAC, became part of the 43 museums of the Lazio Museum Pole in December 2014, and then recognized its special autonomy with Ministerial Decree 44 of 23 January 2016.

Villa Giulia is a building in Rome that is located along the current Viale delle Belle Arti, on the slopes of the Parioli mountains, not far from Via Flaminia.Built as a summer residence outside the door of Pope Julius III, to whom it owes its name, it passed to the Italian State with the capture of Rome in 1870 and later used as the seat of the National Etruscan Museum, its current intended use.

The villa was built for pope Julius III, for whom it was named. It remained in papal property until 1870, when, in the wake of the Risorgimento and the demise of the Papal States, it became the property of the Kingdom of Italy. The museum was founded in 1889 as part of the same nationalistic movement, with the aim of collecting together all the pre-Roman antiquities of Latium, southern Etruria and Umbria belonging to the Etruscan and Faliscan civilizations, and has been housed in the villa since the beginning of the 20th century.

As in the villas of antiquity, the relatively modest residential building was inseparable from the garden: an architecturally built garden with terraces connected by scenic steps, nymphaeums and fountains adorned with sculptures.

The greatest artists of the time took part in the project and the realization of the Villa, divided into a series of three courtyards that extend deep behind the “palazzo”: the painter, architect and art critic from Arezzo, Giorgio Vasari, l architect Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and the Florentine sculptor and architect Bartolomeo Ammannati, whose signature can be read on a pillar, inside the loggia, between the first and the second courtyard.

The decorative apparatus of the villa was enriched with frescoes, only partly preserved, as in the portico of a hemicycle, due to Pietro Venale da Imola, in the rooms on the ground floor and in the atrium, by Taddeo Zuccari and the first floor, Venus, of the Seven Hills, of the Arts and Sciences, due to Prospero Fontana.

After the papal splendor of the sixteenth century the Villa experienced a long period of decline until in 1889, in the aftermath of Italian political unity, at the instigation of Felice Barnabei, Italian archaeologist and politician, it was finally transformed into a museum based on an ambitious and futuristic program of archaeological explorations and an innovative museum project. The latter was aimed at providing the city of Rome with a “National Museum which is one of the main centers of historical and artistic culture”, divided into a section intended for “urban antiquities” (coinciding today with one of the current ” National Roman Museum “, at the Baths of Diocletian) and one focused on” extra-urban antiquities “.

The latter was, located in the Villa of Pope Julius III on Flaminia, it was intended to accommodate all the objects discovered in the area that gravitated to the capital to extend to a part of the territories once dependent on the state of the Church, from Lazio to Umbria

Barnabei’s project, which materialized thanks to the Royal Decree on February 7, 1889, aimed to recover one of the most fascinating places of the Italian Renaissance and, at the same time, to equip the newly born nation with a museum entirely dedicated to reflection on the most remote origins of the Italian identity, thanks to an exhibition focused on the pre-Roman antiquities of peoples such as the Etruscans and the Italics (in particular Falisci, Umbri, Latini and Sabini).

During the 1900s, after an initial autonomy, the Museum became the central headquarters of the Archaeological Superintendence for the protection of northern Lazio, coinciding with the area occupied by some of the most important Etruscan cities: Veio, Cerveteri, Tarquinia and Vulci.

A characteristic element of the Villa is the nymphaeum, originally rich in decorations, powered by a canalization of the Virgin Aqueduct that runs deep and is manifested in the lower fountain, the first “water theater” in Rome.

In 1912, as part of a new urban arrangement of the surrounding area, the construction, long since begun, of a new long wing flanked by the historic building, was added to which was added a second symmetrically arranged to enclose the Renaissance courtyard, completed in 1923.

Villa Giulia is today the most representative museum of Etruscan civilization and welcomes not only some of the most important creations of this civilization, but also Greek products of the highest level, merged into an area that was between the eighth and the fifth century BC an extraordinary meeting point of different people.

For these reasons Villa Giulia, in the meantime also enriched by the nearby Villa Poniatowski (the nineteenth-century residence of the last descendant of the Kings of Poland, has become the most important Etruscan museum in the world, being able to boast in its collections some of the most famous masterpieces of this civilization, for a total of over 6000 objects distributed in 50 rooms, on an exhibition area of over 3000 square meters.

For its extraordinary history and cultural importance, in 2016 [ Ministerial Decree n. 44 of 23 January 2016 ], the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia has been included among the 32 institutes of “significant national interest” with scientific and administrative autonomy, starting a new page in its centuries-old history.

The Museum
Since the beginning of the 20th century it has housed the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, founded in 1889 with the aim of gathering together all the pre-Roman antiquities of Lazio, southern Etruria and Umbria belonging to the Etruscan, Faliscan and you understand. The most famous find is the terracotta funerary monument, the Sarcophagus of the Spouses which represents an almost life-sized married couple who happily recline as if they were at a lunch.

ETRU National Etruscan Museum is housed in two spectacular Renaissance villas, surrounded by greenery and full of open spaces: temples of culture, but also places of peace where you can breathe the magnificence of one of the happiest periods in Italian history and architecture.

Villa Giulia
Built by Pope Julius III, Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte, between 1550 and 1555, Villa Giulia is a splendid example of a Renaissance villa, equipped with an architectural garden with terraces connected by scenic stairways, nymphaeums and fountains.

The greatest artists of the time, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola (“architect of S. Holiness”) and Bartolomeo Ammannati, participate in the design of the Villa, with the contribution of Michelangelo Buonarroti and Giorgio Vasari, while the decorative apparatus was entrusted to Prospero Fontana supported by a team of artists, including Pietro Venale da Imola and the young Taddeo Zuccari.

The hemicycle is decorated with delicate pictorial interventions inspired by the grotesques of the Domus Aurea. The rooms on the main floor welcome an extraordinary cycle of frescoes, including the representations of the Seven Hills of Rome.
In 1889, the Villa became the seat of the National Etruscan Museum.

Tempio di Alatri
It is the life-size reproduction of an Etruscan-Italic temple dating from the III and II century BC, built between 1889 and 1890 in the gardens of Villa Giulia for the inauguration of the Museum.

Born with didactic and scientific purposes, realized with exceptional museological foresight, the reconstruction was based on the data of an excavation conducted a few years earlier in Alatri by Felice Barnabei.

ETRU realizes its mission also through the complete recovery of the temple of Alatri and the creation within it of an immersive and exciting multimedia path, with high resolution video projections and multisensory devices (sight, hearing, smell, touch).

The museum’s most famous single treasure is the terracotta funerary monument, the almost life-size Bride and Groom (the so-called Sarcofago degli Sposi, or Sarcophagus of the Spouses), reclining as if they were at a dinner party.

Other objects held are:

The Etruscan-Phoenician Pyrgi Tablets
The Apollo of Veii
The Cista Ficoroni
A reconstructed frieze displaying Tydeus eating the brain of his enemy Melanippus
The Tita Vendia vase
The Sarpedon krater (or, the “Euphronios krater”) – this is now at the Archaeological Museum of Cerveteri, it was at the Villa Giulia from 2008-2014
The Centaur of Vulci

Highlights of the Works

Kylix Attributed To The Euaion Painter
The kylix (wine cup) comes from a tomb discovered in Vulci in 1931 by the archaeologist Raniero Mengarelli and is one of the many Attic production vessels found in Etruria.

On the inner bottom there is a bearded man lying on a kline (banquet bed) listening to a young woman playing the double flute. Outside, on each of the main sides, two klinai are depicted, which host couples of diners, each formed by a young man and a more mature and bearded man. Some of them listen to the performance of an elegant flutist while others converse, served by a young butler.

The decoration is attributed to the Euaion Painter, pupil of the famous Duride and artist specialized in the production of cups.

The kylix illustrates a symposium, or a reception in which the guests drank wine diluted with water and entertained themselves with pleasant and witty conversations, music, poetry, dances, shows and games.

The Etruscans adopted banquets and symposiums “in Greek style” and opened them to women, while in Greece these events were, and remained for a long time, reserved for men. The diffusion of this type of receptions favored the trade of tableware and fine varieties of wine and the circulation of “intangible assets”, such as musical and literary repertoires, games and, in general, practices related specifically to the entertainment of guests.

Black-Figure Kyathos
The black-figure cup with the raised handle (kyathos) is a form born inside the Attic workshop of Nikosthenes from the reworking of Etruscan models and was intended for export.

Twelve divinities appear on the tank of this specimen, arranged in pairs: from left to right we recognize Zeus and Hebe (or Iris), Hephaestus and Aphrodite, Hercules and Athena, Dionysus and Hermes, Neptune and Amphitrite (or Demeter), Ares and Era (or Estia). Dionysus, surrounded by plant branches, is at the center of the composition and holds a large lotus bud; the goddesses, except Athena, offer a flower to their companions. Margherita Guarducci recognized on the scene a reference to the Antesterie festivals in Athens, dedicated to Dionysus.

On the edge of the kyathos the inscription is traced: ” Ludos egraphsen doulos… ” (the slave Lydos painted…). The meaning of the following words is not very clear. Lydos (namesake of the famous ceramographer Lydos active between 560 and 540 BC) was perhaps a slave of “Mydea” or “originally from Myrina”, in any case the inscription intended to celebrate his ability.

The style of the kyathos is close, in some respects, to the Etruscans Painter of Micali and Painter of Monaco 892. A suggestive hypothesis, which would require further confirmation, identifies Lydos with an Etruscan craftsman who emigrated to Athens, a circumstance that would explain both the stylistic characteristics of the vase is the name of the painter, Lido, in homage to tradition, already alive in Athens, who wanted the Etruscans descendants of the Lidos.

Votive Statue Of A Girl With A Dove
The statue depicts a naked girl sitting cross-legged, plump and smiling, while with her left hand she offers a pomegranate to a domestic dove. The girl wears a necklace, which originally supported a bulla, or an amulet holder pendant. Etruscan and Roman children commonly wore a bulla from birth to adulthood: the amulets contained inside – still unknown to us – had to defend them against the dangers and diseases of childhood.

The statue is one of the many votive offerings discovered at the north gate of Vulci and was almost certainly donated by the girl’s family, perhaps to invoke divine protection or to celebrate an anniversary, such as the happy overcoming of very early childhood, or even to thank a narrow escape. But the unusual hairstyle of the little girl may have had a precise meaning.

The hair is brought forward and gathered in a knot on the forehead, in a form that is unrivaled in Etruscan art but which is very reminiscent of the hairstyle of the “Fanciulla di Anzio” (3rd century BC) now in the National Museum Roman. The statue, in Greek marble, depicts a priestess carrying a tray with sacred objects. From this analogy arose the hypothesis that the hairstyle has a specific ritual character and that therefore the votive statue celebrates a little girl destined to become a priestess.

Panathenaic Amphora
The amphora comes from the Tomb of the Warrior of Vulci, which belonged to a high-ranking personage, who lived in the second half of the 6th century BC and was buried with a rich set that included offensive and defense weapons, a chariot and precious bronze and ceramic tableware..

On one side of the amphora, between two columns that support cocks, the goddess Athena advances to the left brandishing a spear. The opposite side shows two boxers in combat, in the presence of a partner and the referee, who is cloaked and holds an auction. Athletes have a thick beard, seem to have passed their early youth and wear protections on their hands.

The vase, attributed to the Painter of Antimenes, is clearly inspired by the Panathenaic amphorae but has a slightly different shape (the neck is wider and the foot less tapered), smaller dimensions and is devoid of the inscription ” ton Athenethen Athlon ” ([prize ] of the Athens races). The Panathenaic amphorae constituted the official prize for the artistic and sporting competitions of the Great Panathenae of Athens (organized every four years in July, during the festival dedicated to Athena, patron saint of the city) and contained oil obtained from sacred olive trees.

The owners of the Panathenaic “type” amphorae saw in their vases a direct reference to the prestigious Athenian trophies and considered them a symbol of rank and social distinction.

Sarcophagus Of The Newlyweds
Reconstructed from about four hundred fragments, the Sarcophagus of the spouses is actually an urn destined to receive the material remains of the deceased.

Shaped in the round, the work represents a married couple lying on a bed (kline) with the bust raised frontally in the typical banquet position. The man encircles the woman’s shoulders with his right arm, so that their faces with the typical “archaic smile” are very close; the arrangement of the hands and fingers suggests the original presence of objects now lost, such as a cup for drinking wine or a small vase from which to pour precious perfume.

The Etruscans take up the ideology of the banquet by the Greeks as a sign of economic and social distinction and recall the adhesion to this practice also in the funeral sphere, as evidenced by the frequent banquet scenes painted in the Etruscan tombs and the large number of objects related to consumption of the wine and meats found in them.

It is certainly a novelty compared to the Greek costume the presence of the woman next to the man in a completely equal position, indeed with the elegance of her clothing and the imperiousness of her gestures the female figure seems to dominate the scene capturing all our attention.

Leucotea Head
The female head was to be part of the high relief which in the sanctuary of Pyrgi (Santa Severa), the ancient port of Caere (Cerveteri), covered the front head of the ridge beam of the roof of temple A in its reconstruction around 350 BC. C.

Dedicated to Thesan, the Etruscan goddess of Aurora, temple A in Greek sources, which recall the terrible looting by Dionysius of Syracuse (384 BC), is attributed to Leucotea (literally the “white goddess”), by the Romans assimilated to Mater Matuta, goddess deeply linked to the rites of passage and transition, such as birth and, therefore, also the dawn.

The head seems to refer to this divinity, which gives us a strong moving image with curly hair moved by the wind and the “pathetic” expression given by the parted mouth.

Almost a hundred years after the relief with Tideo and Capaneo, the new decoration of the temple presents another myth of the Theban saga in which Ino / Leucotea and his son Palemone, as Ovid tells, persecuted by Era and fleeing from Thebes are welcomed from Heracles, to which belongs the torso with a poplar crowned head exposed in the same showcase.

Gold Foils From Pyrgi
Found three buried in the area of the extra-urban sanctuary of Pyrgi (Santa Severa), the ancient port of Caere (Cerveteri), the three gold plates were originally affixed to the door jamb of temple B dating back to 510 BC; the plates have returned as many inscriptions, two in Etruscan and the third which constitutes their synthesis in the Phoenician language.

The text recalls the dedication of temple B to the Etruscan goddess Uni, Astarte in the Phoenician inscription, by Thefarie Velianas “king on Caere”, or tyrant of the city.

The information provided is confirmed in the archaeological finds partially exposed in the rooms of the Museum and opens a cross-section on the relations between the Etruscans and the Carthaginians, precisely of Phoenician origin, in the common struggle against the Greeks for the dominion of the Mediterranean, just think the famous battle of the Sardinian sea (545-540 BC approx.) described by Herodotus in which, in front of the city of Alalia in Corsica, Etruscans (in particular Ceriti) and Carthaginian allies had opposed the Phocians, who fled later to the Persian conquest of the city of Focea in Ionia, present-day Turkey.

Apollo Of Veii
Found in fragments in 1916, the polychrome terracotta sculpture represents the god Apollo, dressed in a chiton and cloak, while walking barefoot with his left arm stretched forward and the other lowered, perhaps holding the arch.

Together with other statues, this was also intended to decorate the top of the roof of the temple of Portonaccio in Veio, dedicated to the Etruscan goddess Menerva (Athena) and dated at the end of the 6th century BC. C.

The threatening attitude of Apollo is, therefore, to be related to the statue of Heracles displayed in the room in front of him and belonging to the same context: the god is ready to fight with the hero who has just captured the doe with golden horns, sacred to his sister Artemis.

The statues of Portonaccio have been attributed to the “Master of the Apollo” belonging to the last generation of clay sculptors (coroplasts) of the workshop of Vulca, author of the famous statue of Jupiter in the Capitoline temple (ca 580 BC) commissioned by the first king Etruscan, Tarquinio Prisco; for the same temple at the end of the 6th century, King Tarquinius the Superb would have asked the “Master of the Apollo”, perhaps, as many as two quadrigas as an ornament on the roof.

High Relief Of Pyrgi
A scene densely populated with figures characterizes the high relief that covered the rear head of the ridge beam of the roof of temple A; the latter built around 470 BC. C. in the extra-urban sanctuary of Pyrgi (Santa Severa), port of Caere (Cerveteri), it was dedicated to Thesan, the Etruscan goddess of the dawn.

The artist with an effort of extreme synthesis and originality manages to tell the stories of two characters of the myth, Tideo and Capaneo, whose background should be known.

We are under the walls of the city of Thebes, where Eteocles and Polynice, the two cursed sons of Oedipus, fight for power: Eteocles, legitimate king, is barricaded with the Thebans in the city, while outside the warriors from Argos, allies of the usurper Polynice, they attempt the assault. As always the gods witness the clash and intervene.

And in fact, at the center of the scene, angry Zeus throws his lightning at Capaneo who cursed the gods, while on the left at the sight of Tideo, who although wounded to death bites Melanippo’s skull, the goddess Athena goes away in disgust with the potion that she would have given immortality to his protégé.

The nakedness of Tydeus and Capaneus emphasizes the bestiality of their acts and their punishment is the punishment of any behavior marked by the contempt of the gods and the laws of men (hybris), in political terms it is a condemnation of the tyranny of which Polynice is a symbol.

Attic Black-Figure Amphora
In the Attic black-figure amphora attributed to the Michigan Painter there is a representation of one of the twelve labors inflicted by Eurystheus on Heracles: the killing of the Hydra of Lerna, one of the most early mythological subjects represented in Greek art. the Hydra, a multiple-headed aquatic monster (five to a hundred, according to ancient sources), son of Echidna and Typhon, had been bred by Hera in the swamps of Lerna, in Argolis, under a plane tree, near the Amimone spring, just to serve as proof to Heracles. The hero managed to defeat the monster, whose heads severed with the sword regenerated, thanks to a cunning inspired by Athena and calling his grandson Iolao to the rescue: while the hero held the monster still, Iolao cauterized every wound with embers made from the fire set in the nearby forest, and this is precisely the moment of the enterprise reproduced in the amphora. The middle head was said to be immortal: Heracles cut it, buried it and placed an enormous boulder on it, then immersed its arrows in the blood of the Hydra, thus making them poisonous at the slightest scratch.

Micromosaic Brooch With Portrait Of Dante
Round brooch with gold frame with multiple turns of cords and braids; in the center, on a gold background, portrait of Dante in micromosaic executed by Luigi Podio (1826-1888), cousin of Augustus and director of the micromosaic laboratory at the service of the Castellani workshop. The design of the work, of which there are known variants, including one on a bracelet from the “medieval period” sold in Geneva in 1972 by the Christie’s auction house, dates back to the year 1865, in which the sixth centenary of his birth occurred. of the Divine Poet, adopted as a patriotic symbol and whose commemoration entered the program of celebrations for the unification of Italy.

The inspiration is probably due to Michelangelo Caetani, adviser and collaborator of the Castellani family and also esteemed Dantist. The portrait of Dante made by Luigi Podio for this precious brooch takes up what appeared in the cycle of Giotto’s frescoes (1334-1337) discovered in Florence in 1840 by Antonio Marini in the Maddalena Chapel of the Palazzo del Podestà, now home to the Bargello National Museum. The long face, the aquiline nose, the large jaws, the lower lip protruding from the upper one, the large eyes and the melancholic and pensive look correspond to the description of the features of the Poet that Giovanni Boccaccio will trace in his Treatise in laude di Dante (1362).

Acheloo’s Head Antefix
The head of Acheloo, a river divinity characterized by a bullish body and a male face with horns and bovine ears alongside human ones, is not uncommon as a decorative motif in architectural antefixes, but this type in particular does not find precise results, constituting an interesting unicum.

The molded anti-fix is characterized by a rich polychrome: the red-brown color for the complexion; black for the hair, beard, mustache and other details of the face (eyebrows, eye contour, pupil, line between the lips, human auricle); brown for the horn; the cream-white for the inside of the eyes and the ingubbiatura of the tile behind.

The hair falls into two slightly wavy bands under the ears, while on the forehead they form small relief snails, which recall the bull fleece. The almond-shaped eyes, the typical archaic “smile” and the triangular chin, somewhat prominent, have made it possible to stylistically bring the antefix closer to the male head of the Sarcophagus of the Spouses and to propose a similar dating, confirmed by its finding in a filling below the beaten floor of a house, in which ceramic fragments from the last twenty years of the 6th century had been found.

Attic Dinos With Black Figures Of Exekias
This large vase, used during the symposium to mix wine with water, seven fragments of the shoulder and part of the rim are preserved, recomposed and integrated in 1999. Already in ancient times it had undergone a restoration, as indicated by the presence of a hole for inserting a bronze grappa under the shoulder. The profile of the body, spherical, footless and almost entirely covered in black paint, was hypothesized on the basis of intact specimens. The external decoration of the shoulder has two black bands separated by a saving thread and, below the second and narrower band, another band spared and distinguished at the bottom by a red thread; in it, within shells, alternating black and red tongues carefully delineated. The black exterior paint is compact,

Perfectly centered on the shoulder, on opposite sides of the dinos, are two inscriptions, engraved after the creation of the vase (or according to some after cooking) within the black patent leather band between the savings fillet and the frieze with tabs, perhaps on specification buyer’s request. The first inscription, in the Attic alphabet, bears the signature of the great ceramist (Exekìas m’epòiese) and it is the only certain case of an Exekias signature made by engraving and not painted. The second, in the Sicionian alphabet, informs instead that the vase was donated by Epainetos to Charop (o) s (Epàinetos m’èdoken Charopoi), although there is no shortage of those who suggested recognizing in Charops / Charopos not the recipient’s first name, but the epithet with which Heracles was revered in Boeotia in the sanctuary of Zeus Laphystion: Charops (with bright eyes)

The ETRU bookshop has the same opening hours and days as the museum.

Here you can buy tickets and rent audio guides. There are several short multilingual guides for sale. The selection of publications is divided into themes relating to Etruria, Greece and ancient Rome, to which are added areas dedicated to art and children.

The assortment also includes reproductions of Etruscan artefacts (ceramics, bronzes, jewelry) as well as a wide selection of postcards, calendars, stationery, posters, ceramic objects inspired by the museum’s collections. The bookshop is managed by Opera Laboratori Fiorentini – Civita Group.

Pavilion The new pavilion dedicated to didactic-educational activities is a large structure located inside one of the gardens of Villa Giulia. It is equipped to host workshops, seminars and conferences.

The restaurant is surrounded by greenery, in a splendid glazed structure. The museum is preparing a renovation that will lead to its future reopening.

Villa Poniatowski
The Villa, inaugurated in 2012, is the second seat of ETRU. Its rooms house the finds from the Latium Vetus and Umbria. The restoration of a large area intended for temporary exhibitions is underway.

Giuseppe Valadier transformed it into a villa in the early nineteenth century on behalf of Stanislao Poniatowski, grandson of the last king of Poland. With the main view on Via Flaminia, it is embellished with pools and fountains, while the large garden formed by terraced terraces is decorated with ancient sculptures.

The restoration work in 1997 led to numerous discoveries: on that occasion the first sixteenth-century layout of the Villa came to light, with the remains of two fountains, furnishings for pools and fountains, pictorial and decorative cycles.