Painted Wall Panel with an Athletic Trainer
Etruscan, 520–510 B.C.
Terracotta and pigment
Little is known about the group of people who lived in Italy prior to the Romans called the Etruscans. Not much archaeological evidence (including any writings) have been found, nor much if any surviving elements of their spoken language. Regardless, it seems like they had an interesting culture. One such example of that is this piece.
“A fragmentary architectural panel is formed from a thick slab of terracotta, the clay ground of which is covered with a cream-colored slip...From his movement and backward glance, the finely dressed youth appears to take part in a narrative scene with one or more following figures, perhaps in a procession. That it was one of a series of panels is suggested by the truncated palmettes on both sides of the upper subsidiary frieze. The unusual form of the staff, with its crooked forked top, may signal that it represents an emblem of a special office. The forked staff representing an insignia or scepter is held by divinities or rulers on architectural frieze plaques found at Murlo and Acquarossa, and may be represented by fragments of wood in a tomb at Verrucchio. Similar forked staffs are held by athletic trainers and officials, who are frequently depicted on Greek vases; in Etruscan iconography, individuals holding a short staff with a curved top or a straight stick sometimes observe athletic competitors. This panel may depict an athletic competition, a composition that occurs in several Etruscan tombs. Funeral games honoring the dead were an integral part of Etruscan funerary ritual.
Etruscan public buildings and tombs were frequently ornamented with paintings, which were usually applied directly to the walls of the structure or chamber. In some instances, however, painted terracotta panels were made separately and mounted to form an extended narrative frieze. Such panels occur most frequently in sanctuaries and cemeteries in the city of Caere.” ...