Etruscans first winemakers of Italy

In Artimino, the Superintendency, the Municipality and Switzerland finance the restoration of ten thousand ivories discovered inside the oldest tomb

Tholos tomb (2nd half of the 7th century BC) and the entrance to the chamber tomb (7th-6th century BC)

In 1966, the year of the famous flood in Florence, the archaeologist Francesco Nicosia discovered the majestic Princely Tumulus of Montefortini in Comeana, not far from Prato, in that corner of Etruria where vineyards and olive groves intertwine with the history of Etruscans, the first winemakers of the peninsula, who chose the area of ​​the Apennine ridge for their settlements and to control the territory. Thanks to him, the area was carefully investigated and became known as the Etruria of the «tholoi» due to the false dome burials that recall the monumental tombs of the Near East.

It is no coincidence that the Montefortini tumulus, made up of two chamber tombs (an older one with a tholos shape with a cell with a diameter of seven meters and dating back to the second half of the 7th century BC, the other more recent with a false vault built between the end of the VII and the beginning of the VI BC), belongs precisely to that period that scholars call Orientalizing by virtue of commercial traffic and cultural exchanges which favored the diffusion of artistic models from the Near East.

The extraordinary complex of fragmentary ivories (almost 10,000 pieces), discovered inside the oldest tomb, can be traced back to this cultural climate, together with important bucchero vases such as the pair of perforated censers, a turquoise glass cup decorated with pods and other artifacts that testify to the high level of Etruscan handicraft production.

The ivories are tiny fantastic creatures and plaquettes belonging to the covering of pyxes, combs and other furnishings, part of the precious funeral equipment looted repeatedly over time, engraved and perforated with sphinxes, griffins and winged lions, rosettes and lotus flowers, and with Homeric scenes , motifs that then also recur on bronze and ceramic artefacts.

A meticulous study and restoration of these fragile fragments is underway, which began in the late 1980s and has been carried out on several occasions. Today, after more than thirty years, the restoration continues thanks to funding from the Swiss Confederation (50 thousand Swiss francs) which is added to the funds of the Superintendence and the Municipality of Carmignano (90 thousand euros).

Responsible for the project, which also provides for graphic and photographic documentation and the publication of the results with the organization of an exhibition by autumn 2023, is the Etruscanologist Maria Chiara Bettini, with Massimo Tarantini of the Superintendence of Archeology of Florence, Pistoia and Prato . Bettini is the director of the Carmignano archaeological park where the Montefortini tumulus is located (which can be visited every day and with free admission) and of the nearby «Francesco Nicosia» Archaeological Museum of Artimino (open on Saturdays and Sundays, other days by reservation) which keep the materials.

«In 2000, on the occasion of the “Etruscan Principles” exhibition in Bologna, I was involved by Nicosia for the study of the Montefortini trousseau and in particular that of the ivories. Since then I have begun to work alongside Pier Giorgio Tolone as an archaeologist in the first typological selection of the approximately 10,000 decorated fragments still to be restored, and then Franco Cecchi, both of the Superintendence for the Archaeological Heritage of Tuscany. Everything that comes from Montefortini and is already exhibited in Artimino has been restored by them, to whom we also owe the mold and the reconstruction in the museum of the Tomb of the Warrior of Prato Rosello».

The latter is one of the many tombs of the necropolis of Artimino (8th-7th century BC) whose grave goods have found a place on the lower floor of the evocative museum together with the grave goods of other necropolises: ceramic unguentariums, buccheri of various shapes (the censer from Prato Rosello with an Etruscan inscription), funerary urns in boxes, bronze (situla di Grumaggio) and impasto vases, weapons and the beautiful Fiesole stones placed on top of the tumulus in the Archaic age welcome the visitor.

On the first floor instead, the population of the territory with the Etruscan settlements of Artimino and Pietramarina. The Museum was opened in 1983 in the basement of the Medici villa “La Ferdinanda” (where the Etruscan acropolis of Artimino probably once stood), but since 2011 it has found a new location in the former vat cellars of the Artimino farm, a building owned by the Municipality, right at the entrance to the medieval village. The latter, together with the nearby Pieve di San Leonardo, a Romanesque masterpiece, also deserves a visit, but that’s another chapter.

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Montefortini ivory plaque © Photo Superintendence ABAP Florence, Pistoia, Prato

Etruscans first winemakers of Italy