Minoan art

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Minoan art is the art produced by the Minoan civilization on Bronze Age Crete from about 2600 to 1100 BC[1].

The largest collection of Minoan art is in the museum at Heraklion, near Knossos, on the northern coast of Crete. Minoan art and other remnants of material culture, especially the sequence of ceramic styles, have been used by archaeologists to define the three phases of Minoan culture (EM, MM, LM).

Since wood and textiles have decomposed, the best-preserved (and most instructive) surviving examples of Minoan art are its pottery, palace architecture (with frescos which include landscapes), stone carvings and intricately-carved seal stones.


Fresco of three ornately-dressed women
Fresco of three women

Frescoes were the stereotypical type of Art that depicted natural movements[2]. Several frescoes at Knossos and Santorini survive. Arthur Evans hired Swiss artist Emile Gilliéron and his son, Emile, as the chief fresco restorers at Knossos.[3] Spyridon Marinatos unearthed the ancient site at Santorini, which included frescoes which make it the second-most famous Minoan site.

In contrast to Egyptian frescoes, Crete had true frescoes. Probably the most famous fresco is the bull-leaping fresco,[4] they include many depictions of people, with sexes distinguished by color; the men's skin is reddish-brown, and the women's white.[5]


A variety of wares were produced in Crete. Early Minoan ceramics were characterized by patterns of spirals, triangles, curved lines, crosses, fish bones, and beak-spouts. During the Middle Minoan period, naturalistic designs (such as fish, squid, birds and lilies) were common; in the Late Minoan period, flowers and animals were still characteristic but more variety existed.

One of the earliest styles was Pirgos ware, the style may have been imported,[6] and perhaps mimics wood.

In the first phase of Early Minoan, the Aghious Onouphrios ware is most common. Vasiliki ware is found in East Crete during the EM IIA period, but it is in the next period, EM IIB, that it becomes the dominant form among the fine wares throughout eastern and southern Crete.[7] Both styles contain a reddish wash.[8]

Pottery became more common with the building of the palaces and the potter's wheel.[9] Kamares ware is most typical of this period.

The palace style of the region around Knossos is characterized by geometric simplicity and monochromatic painting. Late Minoan art resembles that of Mycenae. Minoan knowledge of the sea was continued by the Mycenaeans in their frequent use of marine forms as artistic motifs, the so called "marine style", perhaps inspired by frescoes, has the entire surface of a pot covered with sea creatures, octopus, fish and dolphins, against a background of rocks, seaweed and sponges.


The Minoans created elaborate metalwork with imported gold and copper.[10] Bead necklaces, bracelets and hair ornaments appear in the frescoes,[11] and many labrys pins survive, the Minoans apparently mastered faience and granulation, as indicated by a gold bee pendant. Minoan metalworking included intense, precise temperature, to bond gold to itself without burning it.[citation needed]

Metal vessels[edit]

Bronze cauldron from Tylissos House A, dated LM IB (Neopalatial period). Heraklion Archaeological Museum.

Metal vessels were produced in Crete from at least as early as EM II (c. 2500) in the Prepalatial period through to LM IA (c. 1450) in the Postpalatial period and perhaps as late as LM IIIB/C (c. 1200),[12] although it is likely that many of the vessels from these later periods were heirlooms from earlier periods.[13] The earliest were probably made exclusively from precious metals, but from the Protopalatial period (MM IB - MM IIA) they were also produced in arsenical bronze and, subsequently, tin bronze,[14] the archaeological record suggests that mostly cup-type forms were created in precious metals,[15] but the corpus of bronze vessels was diverse, including cauldrons, pans, hydrias, bowls, pitchers, basins, cups, ladles and lamps.[16] The Minoan metal vessel tradition influenced that of the Mycenaean culture on mainland Greece, and they are often regarded as the same tradition.[17] Many precious metal vessels found on mainland Greece exhibit Minoan characteristics, and it is thought that these were either imported from Crete or made on the mainland by Minoan metalsmiths working for Mycenaean patrons or by Mycenaean smiths who had trained under Minoan masters.[18]

Golden cup from a LH IIA Mycenaean grave at Vapheio, one of a pair known as the "Vapheio Cups". This cup is believed to be of Minoan manufacture while its twin is thought to be Mycenaean. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

It is not clear what the functions of the vessels were, but scholars have proposed some possibilities.[19] Cup-types and bowls were probably for drinking and hydrias and pitchers for pouring liquids, while cauldrons and pans may have been used to prepare food, and other specialised forms such as sieves, lamps and braziers had more specific functions.[20] Several scholars have suggested that metal vessels played an important role in ritual drinking ceremonies and communal feasting, where the use of the valuable bronze and precious metal vessels by elites signified their high status, power and superiority over lower-status participants who used ceramic vessels.[21][22][23] During later periods, when Mycenaean peoples settled in Crete, metal vessels were often interred as grave goods;[24] in this type of conspicuous burial, they may have symbolised the wealth and status of the individual by alluding to their ability to sponsor feasts, and it is possible that sets of vessels interred in graves were used for funerary feasting prior to the burial itself.[25][26] Metal vessels may also have been used for political gift exchange, where the value of the gift reflects the wealth or status of the giver and the perceived importance of the recipient, this could explain the presence of Minoan vessels in the Mycenaean shaft graves of Grave Circle A and their depiction in an Egyptian Eighteenth Dynasty tomb at Thebes.[27]

Extant vessels from the Prepalatial to Neopalatial periods are almost exclusively from destruction contexts; that is, they were buried by the remains of buildings which were destroyed by natural or man-made disasters. By contrast, vessels remaining from Final Palace and Postpalatial periods, after Mycenaean settlement in Crete, are mostly from burial contexts,[28] this reflects, to a large extent, the change in burial practices during this time.[29] The significance is that vessels from the earlier settlement destruction contexts were accidentally deposited and may therefore reflect a random selection of the types of vessels in circulation at the time, but those from the later burial contexts were deliberately chosen and deposited, possibly for specific symbolic reasons which we are not aware of, this means that the extant vessels from this period are probably less representative of the varieties of vessel types that were in circulation at the time.[30]

Minoan metal vessels were generally manufactured by raising sheet metal, although some vessels may have been cast by the lost wax technique.[31] Research suggests that Minoan metalsmiths mostly used stone hammers without handles and wooden metalsmithing stakes to raise vessels.[32] Many vessels have legs, handles, rims and decorative elements which were cast separately and riveted onto the raised vessel forms. Separate pieces of raised sheet were also riveted together to form larger vessels, some vessels were decorated by various means. Cast handles and rims of some bronze vessels have decorative motifs in relief on their surfaces,[33][34][35] and the walls of some vessels were worked in repoussé and chasing. Precious metal vessels were ornamented with repoussé, ornamental rivets, gilding, bi-metallic overlays and inlaying of other precious metals or a niello-type substance.[36] Motifs on metal vessels correlate to those found on other Minoan art forms such as pottery, frescoes, stone seals and jewellery, including spirals, arcades, flora and fauna, including bulls, birds and marine life. Minoan smiths probably also produced animal-head rhyta in metal, as they did in stone and ceramic, but none in metal are extant from Crete,[37] the iconographical significance of these motifs is largely unknown, although some scholars have identified general themes from the contexts in which they were used.[38][39]


  1. ^ Sakoulas, Thomas. "Minoan Art". ancient-greece.org. Retrieved 2017-10-01. 
  2. ^ Sakoulas, Thomas. "Minoan Art". ancient-greece.org. Retrieved 2017-10-02. 
  3. ^ "Historic Images of the Greek Bronze Age". 
  4. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=hR5FBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA139
  5. ^ Hood, Sinclair (1985). "The Primitive Aspects of Minoan Artistic Convention". Bulletin de Correspondence Héllenique. Suppl. 11: 21–26. 
  6. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=esSIAgAAQBAJ&pg=PT96
  7. ^ Minoan settlement of Vasiliki minoancrete.com
  8. ^ Pedley, pp. 36–37
  9. ^ Pedley, p. 52
  10. ^ Thomas Sakoulas. "Minoan Art". 
  11. ^ "Greek Jewelry - AJU". 
  12. ^ Hemingway, Séan (1 January 1996). "Minoan Metalworking in the Postpalatial Period: A Deposit of Metallurgical Debris from Palaikastro". The Annual of the British School at Athens. 91: 213–252. 
  13. ^ Rehak, Paul (1997). "Aegean Art Before and After the LM IB Cretan Destructions". In Laffineur, Robert; Betancourt, Philip P. TEXNH. Craftsmen, Craftswomen and Craftsmanship in the Aegean Bronze Age / Artisanat et artisans en Égée à l'âge du Bronze: Proceedings of the 6th International Aegean Conference / 6e Rencontre égéenne internationale, Philadelphia, Temple University, 18-21 April 1996. Liège: Université de Liège, Histoire de l'art et archéologie de la Grèce antique. p. 145. ISBN 9781935488118. 
  14. ^ Clarke, Christina F. (2013). The Manufacture of Minoan Metal Vessels: Theory and Practice. Uppsala: Åströms Förlag. p. 1. ISBN 978-91-7081-249-1. 
  15. ^ Davis, Ellen N. (1977). The Vapheio Cups and Aegean Gold and Silver Ware. New York: Garland Pub. ISBN 9780824026813. 
  16. ^ Matthäus, Hartmut (1980). Die Bronzegefässe der kretisch-mykenischen Kultur. München: C.H. Beck. ISBN 9783406040023. 
  17. ^ Catling, Hector W. (1964). Cypriot Bronzework in the Mycenaean World. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 187. 
  18. ^ Davis 1977, pp. 328–352
  19. ^ This paragraph is paraphrased from Clarke 2013, pp. 35–36
  20. ^ Matthäus 1980, pp. 343–344
  21. ^ Sherratt, Andrew; Taylor, Timothy (1989). "Metal Vessels in Bronze Age Europe and the Context of Vulchetrun". In Best, Jan Gijsbert Pieter; De Vries, Manny M. W. Thracians and Mycenaeans: Proceedings of the Fourth International Congress of Thracology, Rotterdam, 24-26 September 1984. Leiden: Brill Archive. pp. 106–107. ISBN 9789004088641. 
  22. ^ Wright, James C. (2004). "A Survey of Evidence for Feasting in Mycenaean Society". Hesperia. 73 (2): 137–145. 
  23. ^ Soles, Jeffrey S. (2008). Mochlos IIA: Period IV: The Mycenaean Settlement and Cemetery: The Sites. INSTAP Academic Press. pp. 143, 155. ISBN 9781931534239. 
  24. ^ Matthäus 1980, pp. 61–62
  25. ^ Baboula, Evanthia (2000). "'Buried' Metals in Late Minoan Inheritance Customs". In Pare, C. F. E. Metals Make the World Go Round: The Supply and Circulation of Metals in Bronze Age Europe : Proceedings of a Conference Held at the University of Birmingham in June 1997. Oxford: Oxbow. p. 74. ISBN 9781842170199. 
  26. ^ Wright 2004, p. 147
  27. ^ Clarke 2013, p. 36
  28. ^ Matthäus 1980, pp. 61–62
  29. ^ Preston, Laura (2008). "Late Minoan II to IIIB Crete". In Shelmerdine, Cynthia W. The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 311. doi:10.1017/CCOL9780521814447.014. ISBN 9781139001892. 
  30. ^ Matthäus 1980, p. 61
  31. ^ Matthäus 1980, pp. 326–327
  32. ^ Clarke, Christina (2014). "Minoan Metal Vessel Manufacture: Reconstructing Techniques and Technology with Experimental Archaeology" (PDF). In Scott, Rebecca B.; Braekmans, Dennis; Carremans, Mike; Degryse, Patrick. 39th International Symposium on Archaeometry: 28 May – 1 June 2012 Leuven, Belgium. Leuven: Centre for Archaeological Sciences, KU Leuven. pp. 81–85. 
  33. ^ Catling 1964, p. 174
  34. ^ Matthäus 1980, p. 329
  35. ^ Evely, R.D.G. (2000). Minoan Crafts: Tools and Techniques: An Introduction. Jonsered: Paul Åström. p. 382. ISBN 9789170811555. 
  36. ^ Davis 1977, pp. 331–332
  37. ^ Davis 1977, pp. 189–190
  38. ^ Furumark, Arne (1972). Mycenaean Pottery I: Analysis and Classification (Reprint 1941 ed.). Stockholm: Åström. ISBN 9185086045. 
  39. ^ Crowley, Janice L. (1989). The Aegean and the East: An Investigation into the Transference of Artistic Motifs between the Aegean, Egypt, and the Near East in the Bronze Age. Göteborg: Åström. ISBN 9789186098551.