OUTLINE FOR AEGEAN ART OF THE BRONZE AGE
While the early advanced civilizations of Mesopotamia in the Near East and Egypt in the
northeastern corner of Africa were creating remarkable artistic achievements during the
third millenium B.C., the third great civilization of the eastern Mediterranean was arising
in that sea’s northeastern arm, the Aegean. Archaeological evidence (i.e. the material
remains of this culture) indicates that during the third millennium B.C., all the peoples
inhabiting the Aegean Sea littoral shared regional variations of a common culture,
suggesting a high degree of maritime communication, and that these people were
probably of the same linguistic/ethnic group. Though these people lived in the land that
would become Greece, they do not seem to have spoken the Greek language.
At roughly 2000 B.C., the transition from the Early to the Middle Bronze Age, the
archaeological evidence signals the often violent arrival of a new group, early Greek-
speaking peoples. Though much of the earlier non-Greek population seems to have
amalgamated with the Greek newcomers, many also fled as refugees to Crete, the large
island closing off the bottom of the Aegean. Beginning
around 2000 B.C., this
condensed pre-Greek population on Crete created a strikingly original palatial civilization
by modern art historians and archaeologists.
Its artistic tradition at its
best displays a lyrical spiritualism, a desire to capture the emotional essence of life.
essential feature of Minoan Art will become an equally essential feature of Greek art and
all “high art” in the Western tradition.
During the two
Palatial periods (early 2000-1700 B.C., later 1700-1400 B.C.)
art becomes progressively naturalistic. A good example is the
lentoid flask decorated
with an octopus and other forms of marine life and dating to ca. 1500-1450 B.C.
(Stokstad fig. 4-15).
The motif, placed on the diagonal to emphasize torsion and
movement, is probably derived from the frescoed wall paintings of contemporary palaces,
and it is worth noting that no attempt is made to have the painted decoration delineate the
various parts of the vase; indeed, the entire body of the vase is used as the figure field,
like a wall. The same effects and characteristics appear in low relief on
Vase, the preserved upper half of an ostrich egg-shaped
of steatite dating to
ca. 1650-1450 B.C. (Stokstad fig. 4-13 and website images).
The harvesters, first
appearing on the left shoulder of the vessel, move out towards the viewer. On reaching
the point of the vase closest to the viewer, they turn away and disappear around the right
shoulder, their movement emphasizing the three-dimensional form of the vase as do their
diagonally held pitchforks.
Since the figures in the background are just as large as those
in the foreground, there is no accurate depiction of three-dimensional space, but the
overlapping harvesters, sometimes three and four deep, create a convincing sense of