June 2012

The Etruscans – An Ancient Italian Civilization

For immediate release

Pointe-à-Callière Presents A World Exclusive
An unforgettable encounter with one of the most fascinating peoples of Antiquity – June 20 to November 25, 2012

Montréal, June 26, 2012 – Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, is presenting a world exclusive: The Etruscans – An Ancient Italian Civilization, an exhibition giving visitors an opportunity to learn about and admire this people, so important in the evolution of humanity and Mediterranean cultures and that even today remains one of the most fascinating civilizations of that era. Presented in the all-new exhibition spaces in the Mariners’ House, it is one of the 20 special events organized by Pointe-à-Callière in 2012 to mark its 20th anniversary.

The Etruscan civilization developed in Italy between the 9th and 1st centuries BC. Their territory, known as Etruria and renamed Tuscany in the late Middle Ages, was bounded by the Arno and Tiber rivers, but the Etruscans also controlled territories extending from the plain of the Po River, in the north, to the Gulf of Salerno, in the south. Etruria was blessed with highly fertile soil and extensive mineral wealth. In fact much of the Etruscans’ growth and prosperity, and their domination over large parts of Italy for many centuries, were due to their skill in exploiting this underground treasure. These accomplished navigators and talented craftspeople founded many rich and powerful cities and played a key role in Mediterranean trade, along with the Greeks, Phoenicians, Egyptians and other historic peoples. Although in the end they were conquered by the Romans, they had a profound influence on Roman religion, architecture and institutions. The Etruscans are renowned for the extraordinarily lifelike depictions in their funerary frescoes and their joyous paintings, and for their artistic style celebrating nature, love and life.

The Etruscans in Montréal: an exceptional privilege
Over 200 objects belonging to the heritage of humanity will be on display at Pointe-à-Callière, recounting the story of this fascinating civilization and its thousand years of dazzling creativity. Finely crafted ancient bronzes, funerary urns, colourful terracotta architectural ornaments, votive offerings, huge colourful wall frescoes, drinking goblets – including some in bucchero ware, the Etruscans’ splendid lustrous black ceramics – and some spellbinding faces that have survived wars and the ravages of time … the items in the exhibition speak to us of the singular skills, ingenuity and sublime beauty of the Etruscan civilization. Rare and precious pieces, some of them signed by their creators, tell us about the Etruscans’ lives, recount their exploits, evoke names and historic figures and offer a detailed panorama illustrating the story of this great people.

Five years’ work went into orchestrating this major Etruscan exhibition in Montréal, a first in Canada. This exhibition was produced with the participation of 23 museums, including the holders of some of the world’s finest Etruscan treasures. Most are located in Italy, including Vatican City: 18 museums preserving Etruscan memories in Tuscany, Latium and Emilia-Romagna (see the appended list). The exhibition could never have been produced without the close collaboration of Etruscologist and scientific advisor Filippo Delpino, Honorary Director of Research at the Istituto di Studi sulle Civiltà Italiche e del Mediterraneo Antico (ISCIMA), in Rome.

Meet the Etruscans
As visitors stroll through the exhibition they will get to know the Etruscans. Every step will bring them closer to these men and women from a far-off era and reveal more about their origins and language. After exploring the land and seas of Etruria, they will be invited within the walls of the glorious Etruscan city-states. Then they will step into an aristocratic household in the midst of a banquet and can even venture into the private rooms of the mistress of the household. After an explanation of Rome’s rise and the decline of the Etruscans, visitors will learn about the Etruscans’ mastery of the art of divination that so impressed the Romans.

A people surrounded by beauty
The items presented in the exhibition also show how wealthy Etruscans decorated their homes with joyous, colourful frescoes along with many luxuries: bronze, silver, gold, bucchero and glass tableware created by the finest craftsmen. Pleasures for enjoying life to the fullest that went along with sumptuous banquets with copious wine and delightful music. For the Etruscans, banquets were part of life, and of death as well. At funerals, the mourners who gathered around the tomb were served food and wine. The tableware used for the banquet was then left in the tomb, so that the deceased could continue to feast in the afterlife. Of all the tombs decorated with spectacular frescoes depicting scenes of Etruscan life, one is particularly dazzling: the Tomb of the Triclinium, discovered in 1830. It is one of the finest examples of Etruscan wall painting. In 1831 and 1832, draftsman and restorer Carlo Ruspi immortalized these stunningly beautiful frescoes, which offered essential details to help us understand Etruscan social life, customs and beliefs. The actual tracings by Ruspi will be presented in the exhibition, allowing visitors to appreciate all the beauties of this work.

Decline and Romanization
One section of the exhibition looks at the gradual decline of the Etruscan civilization from the 4th to the 2nd centuries BC. Their cities were successively invaded by Italic peoples, the Gauls and Rome, leading to their eventual collapse. It took several centuries before the Etruscan culture was finally absorbed into the great Roman “melting pot.” Fortunately, however, Rome preserved Etruscan knowledge and integrated its noble families into Roman society. The Etruscan art of divination, which the Romans admired, spread throughout the Roman Empire. Even Julius Caesar had his own haruspex, an Etruscan seer. The Etruscans worshipped many different gods and goddesses, who strongly influenced Roman mythology.

An enduring legacy
A touching encounter with some splendid Etruscan faces closes the exhibition: some young, some old, both men and women, allowing visitors to exchange glances with them, read their stories and learn more about Etruscan culture. This section also features a rare, majestic and symbolic artifact: the Sarcophagus of the Spouses. This piece, acquired by the British Museum in the 19th century from Alessandro Castellani, a highly reputed goldsmith and antiquarian, perfectly embodies all the frenzy surrounding the rediscovery of the Etruscans, or “Etruscomania,” in 15th- to 19th-century Europe. Moreover, this eloquent and exquisite piece depicting a banqueting couple portrays, rather than male dominance, the more egalitarian place held by women in Etruscan society than in other cultures of the time – another special feature of that society emphasized in the exhibition.

A high-quality publication
A French-language publication designed and produced by the Museum pays tribute to Etruscan talents. Visitors will be able to take home some Etruscan splendours, with this resplendent 160-page publication featuring the main pieces from the exhibition and telling the story of this great people of Antiquity. The scientific articles by veteran Etruscologists will also make it an indispensable reference for anyone interested in this exceptional civilization.

About Pointe-à-Callière
Pointe-à-Callière, the only major archaeology museum in Quebec and all of Canada, is a museum complex rising above a concentrated number of national historic and archaeological sites that illustrate the history of Montréal, Quebec and the rest of Canada. It opened in 1992, to mark the 350th anniversary of the founding of Montréal. Pointe-à-Callière’s mission is to bring visitors to know and appreciate the history of Quebec’s metropolis and to forge bonds with local communities and regional, national and international networks concerned with archaeology, history and urban issues.

The Etruscans – An Ancient Italian Civilization was produced by Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Quebec-Italy joint subcommission. The Museum wishes to thank its sponsors and partners: Astral, Air Canada Cargo, the Ministère des Relations internationales du Québec, the Ministère de la Culture, des Communications et de la Condition féminine du Québec, the Italian Cultural Institute of Montréal, Tourisme Montréal, Hôtel InterContinental, La Presse and The Gazette.

The Museum is subsidized by the city of Montréal.