Anna Calselli

If you ask 10 random people on the street to name 3 famous Italian artists, the chances are high that you will hear the names of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s an old joke that the popular cartoon heroes got their names from famous Renaissance artists.

There’s more to Italian art, however, than Leonardo and Michaelangelo. By accidents of geography and history, Italy has, for millennia, stood near the centers of Western civilization and arts.

Dating back at least 3000 years, when the Etruscan people inhabited the northwestern part of the peninsula, through the Roman and Greek periods, the rise of the Catholic Church with its own artistic traditions, and into the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Modern periods, Italy has a long tradition of artistic excellence.

Each of these periods has a unique style. The Etruscans left behind a record of artifacts including bronze figurines, and terra cotta reliefs on their tombs. Unfortunately, their archeological record is scanty, and not much is known of their culture.

The Romans, with their long-lasting Empire, left behind a rich and varied record of artistic achievement. From their incredible architecture, including such structures as the Collosseum and the Arch of Titus, to their decorative statuary and mosaics, Roman art is well known, and recognizable throughout the world.

The Catholic Church introduced the Christian religious tradition to Italy’s art scene, and heavily influenced the Byzantine and Gothic periods in Italian history. A more modern feel to Italy’s art came with the Renaissance, when Italy’s artists, and Europe’s in general, tried to hark back to their view of the classical acme of art and culture.