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Amazonomachy, Greek versus Amazon

The Corneto sarcophagus

Etruscan sarcophagus, found near Corneto in 1869

earlier half of the third century BC

F. B. Tarbell, A History Of Greek Art:

There being nothing extant which would properly illustrate the methods and the styles of the great artists in color, the best substitute that we have from about their period is an Etruscan sarcophagus, found near Corneto in 1869. The material is "alabaster or a marble closely resembling alabaster." It is ornamented on all four sides by paintings executed in tempera representing a battle of Greeks and Amazons. "In the flesh tints the difference of the sexes is strongly marked, the flesh of the fighting Greeks being a tawny red, while that of the Amazons is very fair. For each sex two tints only are used in the shading and modeling of the flesh. ... Hair and eyes are for the most part a purplish brown; garments mainly reddish brown, whitish grey, or pale lilac and light blue. Horses are uniformly a greyish white, shaded with a fuller tint of grey; their eyes always blue. There are two colors of metal, light blue for swords, spear-heads, and the inner faces of shields, golden yellow for helmets, greaves, reins, and handles of shields, girdles, and chain ornaments."

Our illustration (Fig. 193) is taken from the middle of one of the long sides of the sarcophagus. It represents a mounted Amazon in front of a fully armed foot-soldier, upon whom she turns to deliver a blow with her sword. "Every reader will be struck by the beauty and spirit of the Amazon, alike in her action and her facial expression. The type of head, broad, bold, and powerful, and at the same time young and blooming, with the pathetic-indignant expression, is preserved with little falling off from the best age of Greek art. ... In spirit and expression almost equal to the Amazon is the horse she bestrides." [Footnote: The quotations are from an article by Mr. Sidney Colvin in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. IV., pages 354 ff] The Greek warrior is also admirable in attitude and expression, full of energy and determination.

Although the paintings of this sarcophagus were doubtless executed in Etruria, and probably by an Etruscan hand, they are in their style almost purely Greek. The work is assigned to the earlier half of the third century B.C. If an unknown craftsman was stimulated by Greek models to the production of paintings of such beauty and power, how magnificent must have been the achievements of the great masters of the brush!


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