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Marketing Motherhood: Etruscan Case Studies


Marketing Motherhood
Etruscan Case Studies
Lecture by Prof. Alexandra A. Carpino
Thursday, October 12 at 6pm CT
Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago

Representations of mothers are everywhere in Etruscan art, testifying to the importance of the family and its visualization in funerary, religious, and domestic contexts. On one important class of household artifacts – engraved bronze mirrors – narratives featuring divine and mythical mothers enter the corpus in the fifth century BCE and remain present well into the early third century. Notably, the stories that most appealed to the mirrors’ principal users, women, were those highlighting the close bond between a mother and her son/s. Closely tied to this maternal ideal, especially in the fourth century BCE, are the phenomenon of undress, with a particular emphasis on the mother’s breasts and torso, and a visual rhetoric that appears, at least to modern eyes, to veer towards the erotic. What engravers were marketing, however, wasn’t anything untoward, discomforting, or explicitly sexual about mother-son relationships in Etruria – rather, their imagery presented potential customers with various exempla whose bodies and behaviors materialized the elite’s expectations for their womenfolk. Equally novel is the messaging manifested by a different maternal paradigm that engravers first include in the corpus in the fifth century, one that highlights mothers who are punished by their sons for behaving badly. All in all, whether uplifting or cautionary, the pictorial emphasis on mothers in Etruscan mirror iconography magnified the links between actions and gender norms in the domestic sphere.  

Free and open to the public. Registration is not required. Doors open at 5:30pm CT and seats are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis, until capacity is reached.

Alexandra A. Carpino (Ph.D., University of Iowa) is a Professor of Art History and Associate Dean at Northern Arizona University whose research focuses on the iconography of Etruscan mirrors. Her publications include Discs of Splendor: The Relief Mirrors of the Etruscans (2003), A Companion to the Etruscans, co-edited with Sinclair Bell (2016), and Collecting and Collectors. From Antiquity to Modernity, co-edited with T. D’Angelo, M. Muratov and D. Saunders (2018), along with articles and book chapters on topics as varied as parenthood myths, the role of images of violence in Etruria, and portraiture. Among her current projects are a monograph on the Etruscans’ largest mirrors (the so-called grandiose tangs) and an article about motherhood myths. Dr. Carpino has also served her profession through her past work as the editor-in-chief of Etruscan and Italic Studies: Journal of the Etruscan Foundation and as a member of the Editorial Board for the Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome.   

  • Organized by: Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago