Tag Archives: Tydeus and Capaneus at the Siege of Thebes

National Etruscan Museum’s terra cotta masterpiece

Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome. Detail of clay group with mythological scene from the Theban cycle, from the area of temple A at Pyrgi, mid-fifth century BC. Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Tydeus and Capaneus at the Siege of Thebes” is a temple pediment plaque that was sculpted by a genius: an unknown Etruscan artist. The tale he told through sculpted clay is able to be seen by viewers today, thanks to the monumental effort and dedication required for reconstruction. The high relief plaque illustrates the defeat of Thebes by an army led by seven men, a favorite theme in Etruscan art. Maybe the fact that this treasure has been reconstructed from mere fragments is what is so incredible…. Discovered while ploughing, the pieces were found in a farmer’s field 30 miles from Rome near Caere, an ancient harbour. Dated to 470-460 BCE, the making of the plaque is well-described in a new book called “What Makes a Masterpiece: Artists, Writers and Editors on the World’s Greatest Works of Art.” The plaque once graced the pediment of a temple to the sea goddess Leucothea, a temple so sumptuous it was pillaged for its riches in 384 BCE by Dionysius the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse, according to the book.

After being modeled in terracotta, the plaque was cut in two pieces in order to make transportation to the kiln and firing process easier. It was then fixed to the end of the ridge-pole (columen) of the temple with twelve bronze nails…The high relief is without precedent, and has been modelled entirely by hand, following a preliminary sketch on the surface of the plaque. No one had ever been able to superimpose high-relief terracotta figures so that they could overhang by almost a quarter of their height — a decision that would have involved great difficulties and risks during the firing process. — Giovanni Colonna, What Makes a Masterpiece

Tactical map of the siege of ancient Thebes by Alexander III. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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