Etruscan Dress as a Historical Source

Bonfante, Larissa. 1971. “Etruscan Dress as Historical Source: Some Problems and Examples.”  American Journal of Archaeology, 75:277-284.

Presenter: Sara McFadden

Morgan Fitzgerald
Courtney Freese
Ali Gonzalez
Allen Kupetz

9 thoughts on “Etruscan Dress as a Historical Source

  1. What distinctions does Bonfante address that are important to consider when using artistic representations as a source for interpreting Etruscan dress?

  2. Bonfante makes it clear that when considering artistic representations as a source for interpretation of Etruscan dress that the scholar must consider: 1) The difference between a real costume and a costume which has been imitated from another artistic representation, 2) National or cultural differences between types of dress and their representations, 3) Differences in date due to the fact that fashion rapidly changes in form and meaning, and 4) Social differences, meaning those between genders, social classes, the mortal and the divine, etc.

    An example of each type would be: 1) what she refers to as the Morgan Statuette in the Metropolitan Museum, which has been imitated from a Greek type, with a misunderstanding of the way the dress actually functions, 2) Rounded mantles and pointed shoes which were adopted by the Etruscans, but not the Athenians, 3) Once again the appearance of pointed shoes and the changing representations of them, 4) The representation of a goddess figure in archaic dress, regarding the fact that from 475 on usually only goddesses were seen wearing pointed shoes, and they are clearly an indicator of status.

    • Although the archaizing of the deities makes sense (we do it today – no one ever depicts Jesus in skinny jeans and a sweater vest), I’m curious as to how far back it goes for the Etruscans. Even though the example is given that once pointed shoes became archaic they became deities’ shoes, did they do that with every single out-of-style piece of clothing? Was part of the intention to make them seem older and wiser, more distant from the current time and therefore more mysterious? Or was it just convenient for artists who were already used to one style of shoe to just keep on using them without seeming behind the times?

      • I think those are really good questions Allen, and I’ve been kind of curious about that myself. I wish Bonafonte would flesh out her points a bit more and include more context, or at least point the reader to other relevant sources.

        • This is a frustration I have also had with Bonfante. However, she does state in the conclusion that there are still many questions left open. Why do you think these questions about intention are so difficult to answer?

          • I think the problem is differentiating thoughts and deeds. We know what the artists have done (in regards to the shoes and the transition to deities), and to a certain extent we can figure out a little bit of their thoughts, but for the most part it’s impossible to know exactly what they were thinking, and understandably so. This means we must merely speculate without any direct evidence as to their thoughts. These are the sorts of questions we may never figure out, especially considering that we don’t have any personal Etruscan literature or, perhaps, sarcastic Etruscan graffiti. However, all we need to figure this out is to find a dialogue between deities or some sort of graffiti. Whether or not we’ll ever find this, I obviously can’t say. It’s unlikely, but not impossible.

      • That point makes me wonder though if there was a time then when deities were depicted with contemporary garments. To me, it wouldn’t makes sense if they were. It would make them seem too mortal and common. that being said, if there wasn’t ever a time when they were represented with garments that people were actually wearing at the time, I wonder what they were depicted as wearing in order to maintain that same kind of divine distance between the worshipers and the worshiped.

    • Bonfanate says that the round toga-like tebenna was the everyday dress of Etruscan men from the last third of the sixth century onwards (its shape is shown through Etruscan monuments of the Archaic period, i.e. bronze statuette of the kourous). However, a number of monuments from the classical and Hellenistic periods show male figures wearing the himation. The toga, adapted from the Etruscans, became the official dress for the Romans.

      In her argument, Bonafante notes the interchanging of dress between Greek and Etruscan divinities. Interestingly enough, when we see himation on bronze votive sculptures it is mostly because they represent Greek gods. However, only Jupiter wears the Etruscan tebenna. Moreover, a number of Etruscan funerary representations show himation rather than tebenna.

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