Aegean Art

Aegean Art - Octopus Flask

2800-100 BC

The Aegean Art period encompasses works from the Grecian area, most notably the Mycenaeans, the art of the Cyclades, and Minoan art. Aegean art encompasses these local arts that were located in or around the Aegean Sea. The importance of art and its types of art included in this category are architecture, painted murals, sculpture, and other art forms. Some critics claim that putting arts from very different civilizations together in this way merely because they were located near each other and were created around the same way is forced.

Because of this, it is hard to make blanket statements about this art movement’s effects on society. It can be said, however, that all of these have influenced later art movements, including those in our own day.

Aegean Art Origins and Historical Importance:

Art of the Cyclades

Early Cycladic Art
Early Cycladic Art

Cycladic Art, from the Mediterranean islands known as the Cyclades, is shown in the archeological record to have begun around 2600 BC. Since archaeology and tourism began in the late 1880s on what were previously lonely farming communities, much of what is left of the art and culture has disappeared or been destroyed. Art was know for its therapy functions.

From Cycladic artists we have the first known Greek sculpture, characterized by nearly featureless faces on simplistic oval heads, and often Venus type figurines. The simplicity of Cycladic cultures is often compared to modern sculptors such as Henry Moore. Many of the sculptures feature only a nose, or sometimes the outlines of eyes.

“Sculpture is an art of the open air. Daylight, sunlight, is necessary to it, and for me, its best setting and complement is nature.”  – Henry Moore

A Cycladic sculpture was featured at the opening of the Olympics in Athens in 2004, and the art period enjoyed resurgence in popularity.

Art of the Minoans

The Minoan culture was named so by the British archaeologist that discovered it while excavating in Knossos on the island of Crete. Crete was the home of the legendary King Minos and of the Minotaur.

Art of the Minoans queen fresco
Art of the Minoans queen fresco

The Minoans were lovers of nature, beauty, sport, and luxury and all of these things are represented in their brightly painted frescoes, intricate gold jewellery, ivory carvings, sculptures influenced by nature, and beautifully rendered images on pottery.

The architecture of the Minoan culture was decorative and very advanced, including indoor plumbing. Like the Egyptians, the Minoans celebrated their culture by painting frescoes and murals on their walls depicting courtly processions, acrobatics, and images of daily life. Additionally, they also painted scenes and patterns of aquatic life.

“Anthropologists believe women were among the skilled boxers of the ancient, sport-loving Minoan culture that flourished on Crete until 1100 B.C. The boxing booths at English fairs featured women in the 19th and early 20th centuries.”  – Katherine Dunn

The Minoans are credit with being the first European culture and also of creating the first European art.

Art of the Mycenaean

Mycenae, the stomping ground of Electra, Oedipus, Agamemnon, and Clytemnestra, is a Peloponnesian island whose culture was rediscovered in 1841 when Greek archaeologist, Kyriakos Pittakis , uncovered the Lions Gate, the entrance to the city that was mentioned so frequently in Greek myth and history.

Art of the Mycenaean - Agamemnon mask
Art of the Mycenaean – Agamemnon mask

There they found golden masks; one possibly being of a real life Agamemnon. The civilization lasted from around 1650-1200 BC and was nearly as dramatic in real life as it was in literature. The Mycenaeans were a warring culture that dabbled in piracy and looting. This comes forth in their artwork.

Some of what was found were decorated weaponry, fortified architecture, and while some of their imagery represented nature, much of it was structured. Many of the images of nature were of beings being hunted.

Aegean Art Key Highlights:

  • The Aegean peoples were of seafaring cultures from agriculture islands that valued aquatic life and nature.
  • These three cultures, however, differed greatly in how they expressed their values in art forms: the Clycladics were minimalist, the Minoans were influenced by beauty, and the Mycenaeans were influenced by war and hunting.
  • Each of these cultures produced smaller scale sculptures, primarily figurines. The Cycladic culture produced figures that were very similar to our modern day Oscar, and the Minoans went the opposite direction with intricately carved or cast figures. The Mycenaeans focused heavily on metal working in their sculpture.
  • Homer is said to be from this area which is why it plays prominently in his works. He spoke of some of the major art works of these islands that would not be seen for many years until they were rediscovered in the late 19th century.

Aegean Art Top Works:

  • Mycenae:
    • The Mask of Agamemnon
    • Chariot krater
    • Stirrup jar with octopus
    • Lions Gate
  • Minoan:
    • Fisherman Fresco, Akrotiri
    • Rhyton in the form of a bull’s head
    • Queens Fresco
    • Stone seals
    • Bees of Malia
  • Cyclades:
    • Seated Harp Player
    • Spouted Bowl
    • Kernos (Vase)
    • Standing Female Figure

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