Etruscan Carved Stone Plaque (las trone a scala)
Culture: Etruscan, Etruscan
Period: 550-525 B.C.
Dimensions: Dim: 70 x 56 cm
Price: CHF 95'000
Ex-Swiss Private Collection, Geneva, 1970’s.
The main panel is decorated with the central “a scala” pattern, flanked, on the left and right, by square metopes that are adorned with orientalizing motifs carved in low relief. It shows, in this order, a winged griffin, a mermaid, a running warrior, a winged lion, a crouching winged panther turning its head towards the viewer and a swan. These patterns that the local craftsmen had largely borrowed from Greek iconography often appeared in Etruria in the 6th century B.C., where their presence is well attested on funeral paintings and on black-figure pottery or bucchero vases, etc. Like many other examples, this one would have been decorated on both sides, but the back has here been left unfinished. The “lastroni a scala” are large plaques very variable in size, of which no known example, is preserved in its entirety. They were usually carved from the nenfro, a central Italian, very porous stone of volcanic origin or, more rarely, from limestone. The element that enables categorizing these objects in a well defined and homogeneous class of material is constituted by the presence of the “stair step” pattern, often surrounded by small panels carved in low relief. The alternation between carved triangles and small plaques with reliefs is certainly decorative, and do recall the elements of the Greek Doric frieze composed of alternating painted or carved metopes with triglyphs, but the arrangement here is vertical.
These plaques always come from Tarquinia, one of the most famous cities of Etruria, situated about 50 km north of Rome, near the Tyrrhenian coast. Chronologically, the production of these reliefs is limited between the middle of the 7th and the late 6th century B.C. Typologically and stylistically, it is even possible to discern some groups of plaques and to attribute them to different workshops. The purpose of the “lastroni a scala” in ancient times is not clear yet, although they are documented to come from necropoleis. Furthermore, many of these monuments have been modified and reused during antiquity. Perhaps they were doors were preventing or protecting the access between the dromos (corridor) and the room where the burials were stored. This hypothesis is reinforced by the fact that several plaques are carved on both sides. Their close relationship with funerary architecture is also highlighted by some of the patterns in relief: the lion, the panther and the griffin, for example, may be regarded as guardians of the tomb, the siren is a monster of renowned funerary nature, etc.
The stylistic analysis of this piece allows us to date it to the third quarter of the 6th century B.C. (550-525 B.C.)
BRUNI S., I lastroni a scala, Rome, 1986.
JUCKER I. and al., Italy of the Etruscans, Mainz/Rhine, 1991, p. 289, n. 385.