The Apennine Peninsula is geographically unified, but the art of ancient Italy was far from being homogenous. Prior to the Roman conquest, several different artistic traditions coexisted in Italy in lively interaction with one another.

South Italy was characterised by a great variety of artistic traditions in the Greek cities of the coast and the Italic peoples of the hinterland, which constantly influenced one another. Greek artists were stimulated by neighbouring indigenous cultures and by their own variegated local and more distant Greek traditions, while in the art of the Italic peoples, styles untouched by Greek influences (5–7) existed side by side with those that were in dialogue with them (8–13). The reception of Greek cultural influences did not, therefore, lead to the abandonment of indigenous forms of artistic expression, but rather enriched them with new possibilities.

To the north, both through objects brought by traders and by the settlement of immigrant artisans, an intensive connection developed between the indigenous inhabitants and the cultures of Phoenicia and Greece, which played an important role in the emergence of Etruscan art (14–19). Contact with the Greeks remained decisive throughout the history of Etruscan culture. For the Etruscans, Greek art often served as a starting point; they never, however, regarded the Greek canon as compulsory, but chose freely from among their models. Between the 8th and 3rd centuries, the Etruscans created one of the most influential artistic traditions in Italy – and even in the ancient Mediterranean world. Other peoples of Italy and later periods of history sometimes reflected on this tradition even more strongly than on the art of the Greeks.