Jessica Nowlin (Brown University), “The long shadow of ‘orientalizing’: the political context and motivations behind an art historical term and the search for Etruscan origins”
Abstract: This paper contextualizes the development of the art historical term “orientalizing”, and the investigation of Etruscan origins, within the broader historical and political environment of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Study of the long-standing question of Etruscan origins was often used to bolster Italian nationalism, particularly during the Risorgimento. However, the evidence of material similarities between objects discovered in Etruria, Greece and the Near East during the 19th century indicated participation in a broader, Mediterranean-wide artistic style. It is within this backdrop that Alexander Conze first defined an “orientalizing” style, and Alessandro Della Seta formalized “orientalizing” as a chronological period within Etruscan art history. The term “orientalizing”, however, was not just meant as a tool for defining artistic styles or periods, but as a project in Orientalism: defining the birth of civilization in the West against Eastern peoples and traditions, marking the triumph of Western artistic invention over Eastern decorative influence, and condensing the artistic and intellectual contributions from the eastern Mediterranean into an amorphous “Orient”. In the same climate of Italian colonial expansion within the Aegean, Della Seta began his own archaeological mission at Lemnos (1925-1931) in order to clarify the question of Etruscan origins or eastern “orientalizing” influence. By tracing the scholarly developments and projects concerning Etruria and Lemnos around the turn of the last century, this paper explores the long shadow that these three political ideologies (Nationalism, Orientalism and Colonialism) have placed over the topic of Etruscan and eastern interaction.