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OUTLINE FOR AEGEAN ART OF THE BRONZE AGE Historical background: 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 BCE, 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 BCE, all the peoples inhabiting the Aegean Sea littoral shared regional variations of a common culture, suggesting both 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 BCE, 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 BCE, this condensed pre-Greek population on Crete created a strikingly original palatial civilization called Minoan (after the legendary king Minos) 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. This essential feature of Minoan Art will become an equally essential feature of Greek art and eventually of all “high art” in the Western tradition. During the two Palatial periods (early 2000-1700 BCE, later 1700-1400 BCE) Minoan 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 BCE (Janson fig. 4.12). 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 the *Harvesters Vase, the preserved upper half of an ostrich egg-shaped rhyton of black steatite dating to ca. 1650-1450 BCE (Janson 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 architectonics of the vase, its three- dimensional form as do their diagonally held pitchforks. Since the figures in the background are just as large as those in the foreground, there is no perspective, an accurate depiction of three-dimensional space, but the overlapping harvesters, sometimes
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This note was uploaded on 10/07/2011 for the course ART HISTOR 105 taught by Professor Kenfield during the Fall '11 term at Rutgers.

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