- Museum number
Part of a copper alloy plaque with Etruscan inscription.
The stout bronze plaque, the left part of which is broken off and missing, has a hole for suspension or to be attached by a nail. The plaque is cast, probably by the lost wax method, and it appears that the deeply-cut letters were inscribed in the wax before casting. The back is smooth with no indentation from any of the letters. The inscription runs from right to left, as often found in Etruscan writing.
- Production date
- 3rd century BC - 2nd century BC
Length: 99.20 millimetres
Width: 64.50 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Etruscan inscribed bronze plaques such as this are rare but there is another in the MAEC, inscribed ‘ARCENZIOM’. This was previously erroneously believed to have been found together with the Culsans plaque. Once also wrongly associated with the plaque was a bronze figure with a thunderbolt, which probably accounted for Gori’s describing it as a plaque for fixing to a tree which was believed sacred, having been struck by lightning (cf. Pliny, Natural History Bk 16,44, regarding an Etruscan inscription on a bronze plaque affixed to a tree on the Vatican Hill); that, together with his possible interpretation of preθnsa as being associated with the Greek verb πρήθειν, to burn.
The plaque’s relationship to a lead copy in the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona has been a matter for great conjecture, but the recent article by Agostiniani and Massarelli (2012), resulting from consultation of unique documentation at the Cortona Museum, has shown the lead plaque to be a modern copy of the bronze one, made between 1746 and 1755, and acquired by the MAEC by 1783, prior to which it was in the possession of Baron Stosch.
The plaque has no connection with Cortona, and we know only that it was found some time prior to 1723 by which time it was in the possession of Buonarroti in Florence. He described it as a ‘label’ for a tomb or grave, probably mindful of the painted stone name-plates in Roman columbaria. The fact that the plaque has been pierced through, or more likely cast with, a hole suggests that it was either suspended in a sanctuary as a dedication in itself, or as a label for a votive gift, or as a protective sign.
This simple plaque, besides being of intrinsic interest, boasts an intriguing modern history. It was published in Thomas Dempster’s De Etruria Regali in 1723 and featured in the collections of the distinguished antiquarians Filippo Buonarroti, great grand-nephew of the artist Michelangelo, and Antonio Francesco Gori. The Culsans plaque was an addition to Dempster’s work by Buonarroti, who edited the volume for publication in 1723, a century after it was written in the early 1600’s. He augmented the original content with illustrations of objects, specifically those in his possession, as was the bronze plaque at the time.
Gori acquired the plaque in 1733 following the death of Buonarroti, having already documented it in the second of his three volumes on Etruscan artefacts. As late as 1829 the plaque was still in Florence when it was seen and recorded by the archaeologist and collector Wilhelm Dorow (Agostiniani and Massarelli, p.109). After the best part of two centuries the bronze plaque came to light again in 2007, in an auction at Christies, London, among the contents of a 19th century collection of antiquities housed in a wooden box of the William and Mary period (William III and Mary II of England, 1689-1702). Research at the British Museum, which subsequently acquired the box together with its contents of some 260 objects, proved the collection most likely to have been assembled by the eminent Quaker, William Allen (1808-1897) whose family owned the Stafford Allen pharmaceutical company and were prominent members of the anti-slavery campaign (see Hobbs 2011, with contribution by the present author). However we have no evidence on his part of any interest in antiquities and it is perhaps more likely that his nephew William, who appears to have assembled the rest of the material in the box and was also a collector of Roman coins (some of his collection was acquired by the British Museum) was responsible for acquiring it. The only documentation that came with the plaque is a paper label that was glued to the back, with the words ‘Etruscan bronze’ in what seems to be 19th century hand writing. There were no other Etruscan items in the box save two 8th century BC bow and leech fibulae, now respectively PE2007,8045.10 and 5, and with no surviving documentation.
[J. Swaddling in Bruschetti et al 2014, III.86]
- On display (G71/dc13)
- Exhibition history
2014 22 Mar-30 Sep, Italy, Cortona, Museo dell'Academia Etrusca e della Citta di Cortona, La Gran Bretagna e gli Etruschi
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- London Agent Carlo Milano. The box was sold by Christies on behalf of Richard Allen, in whose family the box had been handed down for several generations. Two items are signed 'WA', which refers to William Allen (1808-1897), brother of Stafford Allen and the principal collector of the material in the box. There is also a reference to 'E R Allen' who is Edward Ransome Allen (1841-1916) and his son George Stafford Allen (1871-1941). Edward was Stafford's son and therefore William's nephew. Other previous owners, besides William Allen, were Anton Francesco Gori and Filippo Buonarroti.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number