Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Flights of Fancy Volume 59 Number 5, September/October 2006
by Marco Merola

In an early Etruscan tomb, an artist created an exotic bestiary.

[image] The tomb's walls were covered with depictions of water birds and cartoonish lions. (Courtesy Ministero dei Beni Culturali) [LARGER IMAGE]

Italy's special task force for the Protection of Cultural Patrimony has netted another spectacular find--the oldest painted tomb in the western Mediterranean. Police and archaeologists found the tomb mostly emptied of its contents, but were stunned to see its brightly frescoed walls. Named the Tomb of the Roaring Lions after a scene depicted in it, this burial chamber was for a warrior-prince and dates to the opening decades of the seventh century B.C. The chamber contains an early type of tomb painting in which figures are traced with red and black lines but are not filled in with color, a technique similar to that used in decorating pottery of the period. Francesca Boitani, director of the National Etruscan Museum of the Villa Giulia, suggests that the artist "was a ceramics painter unaccustomed to working on walls." She cites "mistakes made in the proportions of the animals depicted in the tomb, as well as the difficulty the painter obviously had in drawing lions, animals he or she had probably never seen and only knew from vases imported from Greece or the Near East."

Marco Merola is ARCHAEOLOGY's Naples correspondent.

© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America