The paintings from Tomba della Scimmia, in Tuscany, are representative of the heavy bacterial colonization experienced in most Etruscan necropolises. The tomb remained open until the late 70's when it was closed because of severe deterioration of the walls, ceiling and paintings after decades of visits. The deterioration is the result of environmental changes and impacts suffered since its discovery in 1846. We show scanning electron microscopy and molecular studies that reveal the extent and nature of the biodeterioration. Actinobacteria, mainly Nocardia and Pseudonocardia colonize and grow on the tomb walls and this process is linked to the availability of organic matter, phyllosilicates (e.g. clay minerals) and iron oxides. Nocardia is found metabolically active in the paintings. The data confirm the specialization of the genera Nocardia and Pseudonocardia in the colonization of subterranean niches.