Anyhow here you have them in hundreds, and they are curiously alive and attractive. They are not considered very highly as ‘art’. One of the latest Italian writers on Etruscan things, Ducati, says: ‘If they have small interest from the artistic point of view, they are extremely valuable for the scenes they represent, either mythological or relative to the beliefs in the after-life.’
George Dennis, however, though he too does not find much ‘art’ in Etruscan things, says of the Volterran ash-chests: ‘The touches of Nature on these Etruscan urns, so simply but eloquently expressed, must appeal to the sympathies of all–they are chords to which every heart must respond; and I envy not the man who can walk through this museum unmoved, without feeling a tear rise in his eye’
And recognizing ever and anon
The breeze of Nature stirring in his soul.
The breeze of Nature no longer shakes dewdrops from our eves, at least so readily, but Dennis is more alive than Ducati to that which is alive. What men mean nowadays by ‘art’ it would be hard to say. Even Dennis said that the Etruscans never approached the pure, the sublime, the perfect beauty which Flaxman reached. Today, this makes us laugh: the Greekified illustrator of Pope’s Homer! But the same instinct lies at the back of our idea of ‘art’ still. Art is still to us something which has been well cooked–like a plate of spaghetti. An ear of wheat is not yet ‘art’. Wait, wait till it has been turned into pure, into perfect macaroni.
For me, I get more real pleasure out of these Volterran ash-chests than out of–I had almost said, the Parthenon frieze. One wearies of the aesthetic quality–a quality which takes the edge off everything, and makes it seem ‘boiled down’. A great deal of pure Greek beauty has this boiled-down effect. It is too much cooked in the artistic consciousness.
In Dennis’s day a broken Greek or Greekish amphora would fetch thousands of crowns in the market, if it was the right ‘period’, etc. These Volterran urns fetched hardly anything. Which is a mercy, or they would be scattered to the ends of the earth.
As it is, they are fascinating, like an open book of life, and one has no sense of weariness with them, though there are so many. They warm one up, like being in the midst of life.
The downstairs rooms of ash-chests contain those urns representing ‘Etruscan’ subjects: those of sea-monsters, the seaman with fish-tail, and with wings, the sea-woman the same: or the man with serpent-legs, and wings, or the woman the same. It was Etruscan to give these creatures wings, not Greek.
If we remember that in the old world the centre of all power was at the depths of the earth, and at the depths of the sea, while the sun was only a moving subsidiary body: and that the serpent represented the vivid powers of the inner earth, not only such powers as volcanic and earthquake, but the quick powers that run up the roots of plants and establish the great body of the tree, the tree of life, and run up the feet and legs of man, to establish the heart: while the fish was the symbol of the depths of the waters, whence even light is born: we shall see the ancient power these symbols had over the imagination of the Volterrans. They were a people faced with the sea, and living in a volcanic country.Share It