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Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department/Program

Art History and Archaeology


William E. Wallace, Daniel Bornstein, Paul Crenshaw, Brian Curran, Susan Rotroff, Sarantis Symeonoglou


English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type

Restricted Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The Italian Renaissance has long been characterized as a revival of Roman and Greek arts and learning, but the period's fascination with ancient Etruria is underappreciated. The Etruscan legacy was a source of special pride for Renaissance Tuscans, who sought in the ancient civilization a pristine ancestry which rivaled Rome with its great antiquity, piety, and strength. Consequently, to proclaim the Etruscan origins of one's city or family became a technique of self-promotion and securing patronage. This dissertation explores how artists and authors manipulated Etruscan history and artifacts to promote their Tuscan patrons, focusing on the Medici courts of Pope Leo X (1513-1521), Pope Clement VII (1523-1534), and Duke Cosimo I (1537-1574). Analyzing printed, manuscript, and documentary sources, I reconstruct the Renaissance knowledge of Etruscan history and artifacts and investigate how political and cultural agendas shaped representations of the Etruscans in artistic and literary works.

The interest in ancient Etruria was widespread in Renaissance Florence, where a local tradition connected the city's origins to the Etruscan city Fiesole. Florentine authors, from the early chroniclers of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to the Renaissance scholars Leonardo Bruni, Leon Battista Alberti, and Giorgio Vasari, celebrated Etruscan wealth, warfare, and art. Accounts of the Etruscans were based not on archaeological or humanistic inquiry, however, but were a projection of current political and cultural situations onto the past. Under the Medici popes, the ancient alliance between Rome and Etruria justified Tuscan influence in Rome, while Duke Cosimo I of Florence exploited Tuscany's Etruscan history to justify his imperialism. These visions of Etruscan history shaped discussions about Etruscan antiquities in Florentine texts. Florentine authors Giambattista Gelli and Pierfrancesco Giambullari manipulated Etruscan, Roman, and medieval artifacts and monuments as archaeological "proof' of Florence's "Etruscan" origins. A similar authorial agenda led Giorgio Vasari to codify the features of Etruscan artistic style in the mid-sixteenth century, the topic of the last chapter.



Permanent URL: Print version available in library catalog at Call #: LD5791.8.PhD2009 H54.