Photo by O. Louis Mazzatenta/National Geographic Image Collection

Resting atop a 2-foot-long, first-century B.C. cinerary urn, an Etruscan woman gazes into the eyes of her husband. The Etruscans often carved ash urns and sarcophagi with distinctive portraits that capture various moods: lyrical, dramatic, tender and erotic. As Ingrid D. Rowland notes in “Mastering the Delicate Art of Living,” Etruscan artists never shied away from the imperfections of nature; their sculpture depicts people who are vital, earthy and often ugly—note, for example, the man’s furrowed brow and double chin.