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Minoan Art: History & Images

Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

In this lesson, we will explore various types of artwork created by the Minoans. Minoans were early Greeks who created vivid images in their artwork, which became a popular export to surrounding areas.

The Minoans

The Minoans were a group of the earliest Greeks. They lived on the Island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. They produced beautiful artistic works, some of which have survived and are being preserved today.

The Minoan civilization first existed around 3300 BC. Minoans were traders, importing and exporting goods with surrounding regions. They developed a system of trade and utilized the natural harbors existing on their mountainous island. Remains of Minoan artwork, like pottery, have been found in other areas. The colorful images and expert craftsmanship helped them become very popular.

Much of the art produced during this time would have deteriorated and been destroyed. The surviving pieces of art can be found in museums throughout the world. Although many of the pieces being preserved are just fragments, there exist some whole artifacts.

The Minoans were subject to long periods of peace. Artwork from this period often depicted daily life for common people. It contained images of current events and the Minoans' physical environment. Minoan art also depicted religious rituals and gods and goddesses. Bulls were also a popular image because of their religious significance. Minoans used images of bulls to emphasize strength and fertility.

Sculpture with Bull and Acrobat
Bull with Acrobat

Pottery

Pottery from the early Minoan civilization (1900-1700 BC) has been found depicting spirals and shapes like triangles, curved lines, and fish bones.

Minoan Vessel
Minoan Vessel

With the introduction of the potter's wheel, production became more efficient. Kamares were vessels with thin walls and large curves. They were popular in other areas like Egypt and Syria.

Minoan Kamare
Kamare

As time passed, pottery evolved to depict other images. These included images of nature, such as flowers, birds, and fish. Later, images of flowers and animals held more variety.

Palaces and Paintings

Many early Minoan palaces were destroyed, and new ones were built after 1700 BC. Palaces were not built with vibrancy, but were functional. These buildings would have been used administratively for ritual worship, storage, or market trading. Because the Minoans developed a strong marine defense, buildings inside the island generally did not have defensive structures. Palaces contained silos for storage. They also held long staircases and a central courtyard.

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