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Display of ancient Italian culture opens tomorrow

More than 200 valuable artifacts from Etruscan civilisation will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Art from tomorrow (June 9) to September 10.

"The World of the Etruscans" features a selection of fascinating pieces including terracotta statuettes, pottery items, canopic urns, stone sculptures, sarcophagi, bronze ware and jewellery, offering a comprehensive picture of the different periods and features of the mysterious Etruscan civilisation of 2,000 years ago.

The exhibition, a highlight of the Year of Italy in China, is organised by the Superintendence for the Archeological Heritage of Tuscany, Florence, the Tuscan Regional Department for Culture and the Centre Promotion and Services, Arezzo in cooperation with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Consulate General of Italy in Hong Kong. The exhibition in Hong Kong is presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department with the Support of the Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena. The scientific project is directed by the Director of the National Archeological Museum of Florence, Dr Giuseppina Carlotta Cianferoni, and the lenders are Superintendence for the Archeological Heritage of Tuscany, Florence, National Archeological Museum of Florence, National Archeological Museum of Siena, Archeological Museum "Guarnacci" of Volterra.

The exhibition was opened today (June 8). Officiating guests included the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Ms Anissa Wong Sean-yee, the Consul-General of Italy in Hong Kong, Ms Gabriella Meneghello, the Tuscan Regional Minister for Culture, Professor Mariella Zoppi, and Dr Cianferoni.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Ms Anissa Wong Sean-yee, said the exhibition provided insights into the rich civilisation of the Etruscans and its significant impact upon the ancient Romans and Mediterranean civilisations. Excelling in many aspects, the Etruscans had diversified political and religious systems and were renowned for their sophisticated arts and craft.

Ms Wong said it was the first time that such a major exhibition of ancient Italian art had been presented in Hong Kong. "The exhibition not only contributes to the promotion and understanding of the heritage of ancient Italy, but also offers a comprehensive showcase of Etruscan civilisation to the people of Hong Kong," she said.

Well before the Roman civilisation took shape, the Etruscan civilisation had been active in central Italy, the region known today as Tuscany. The advanced culture of the Etruscans prevailed in the Mediterranean from the 9th century BC until its complete assimilation into the Roman Empire in the 1st century. It was, as historians generally agreed, the Etruscans who paved the way for the great Roman civilisation.

Etruria stretched across the Tyrrhenian Sea, Arno River and Tiber River region in central Italy. The Etruscans benefited from well-developed agriculture and the huge forest resources of the region, but it was sea trade that accounted for their rise. The Etruscans had been engaged in trade with the coastal cities of Asia Minor for a very long time. This contact with a more advanced civilisation of the Greek world brought about a prevalence of goods, such as precious gold jewellery, silver ware, bronze vessels, ivory, faience jars and ceramics. These daily and luxury items were either imported from the Near East or Greece, or produced domestically in specialised workshops that worked in the Greek or Attic style. These foreign workshops exerted a remarkable influence in all local crafts from ceramics to wall painting and architectural terracotta.

The exchange with foreign regions accelerated the technical development and craftsmanship of the Etruscans. They became renowned masters of bronze, "bucchero" vessels, Greek-styled terracotta vessels and fine jewellery as well as monuments and terracotta decorations for tombs. Their skills and their art found no parallels in the ancient Mediterranean region. The Romans learnt a good deal from the Etruscans; the earliest architecture of Rome was built with Etruscan technology.

As the productive activities flourished, private land ownership became increasingly prevalent and a new class of aristocrats begins to emerge. In the first half of the 8th century BC, the indigenous peoples established relationships with the Greeks and Phoenicians. As a result of these relationships, they began to adopt Greek and Phoenician decorative motifs and artistic techniques. Soon afterwards they began to embrace their culture as well. Writing, a new way of dining, and a heroic funerary ideology were all introduced into the indigenous society. In short, they began a new way of aristocratic living that deeply changed the character of their society.

Etruscan society in this era is characterised by distinct classes, based on the formation of hegemonic family clusters. The grave furnishings — the ceramics, and in particular the banquet dishes, reflect occupational as well as recreational activities. The iron or bronze weapons point to a heroic ideal and several insignia, such as sceptres or lictor’s fasces, refer to secular power. Yet other objects, such as the variety of pyxis, flabelli (fans), or censers, are related to various religious ceremonies.

In antiquity the Etruscans were famous for their profound religious sense. Their religion was polytheistic. A core of names of divinities is clearly of Hellenic derivation. In the earlier periods, offerings almost always consisted of ceramic objects and only rarely, of bronze statues representing various deities. Figures of votive offerings, animals, coins, and clay models of buildings have also been found. Sometimes the offerings contain inscriptions recording the name of the god or the offerer. This devotional phenomenon assumes particularly showy dimensions in the late classic and Hellenistic period, because the already vast typology is enriched by a special series of anatomical ex-votos. These objects reproduce the different parts of the body - heads, legs, hands, feet, organs. They are clearly related to health and fertility and are almost always the expression of a religiosity that emerged from the poorer classes and from local products of an essential modest level.

To explore the Etruscan culture throughout its long history, the exhibition is divided into five sections, namely Origins of Etruscan Civilisation, Culture of the Lords, Urban Society, Hellenism and Romanisation and Aspects of Etruscan Religion.

To tie in with the exhibition, a talk entitled "Banqueting with the Etruscans" will be given at the Lecture Hall of the Museum of Art tomorrow (June 9) at 6pm. Dr Cianferoni will introduce the culture and art of the Etruscans from the perspective of their dinner table. The lectures will be conducted in Italian with English interpretation. Admission is free and 150 seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

In addition, a fully illustrated catalogue will be published and available at the Gift Shop of the Museum of Art. An audio-guide to the exhibition is also available in the gallery.

The Museum of Art is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm daily and is closed on Thursdays (except those falling on public holidays). Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

For enquiries, call 2721 0116 or visit the Museum of Art's website at .

Ends/Thursday, June 8, 2006

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