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 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."
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
The quotations are from an article by Mr.
Sidney Colvin in The Journal of Hellenic Studies,
Vol. IV., pages 354 ff.