Cycladic, Mycenean, and Minoan Art
Art of the Aegean

Cycladic: Named for the Cyclades - a Greek island group in the Aegean Sea, south-east of the mainland of Greece. The Late Neolithic/Early bronze age Cycladic culture is best known for its flat female idols carved out of the islands' marble.

Mycenaean: Mycenaean Greece, the last phase of the Bronze Age in ancient Greece, flourishing between 1600 BCE and the collapse of their bronze age civilization around 1100 BCE. Their civilization was dominated by a warrior aristocracy.

Minoan: The Minoan civilization was a bronze age civilization on Crete, an island in the Aegean Sea. The culture flourished from approximately 2700 to 1450 BCE; afterwards, falling eventually to the Mycenaeans. The name "Minoan" was given to the culture by the famed British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans after the mythic king Minos. Minos is also where the monstrous Minotaur (half man/half bull), got its name. The Minotaur lived in Minos' labyrinth, and it was Minos' daughter, Ariadne, who helped the hero Theseus find his way through the labyrinth, using a piece of string.

Early Cycladic Art and Culture [MMA]
Mycenaean Civilization [MMA]
Minoan Crete [MMA]
Architecture in Ancient Greece
Anatolia and the Caucasus (Asia Minor), 1000 BCE 1 CE, (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, southeastern Russia, and Turkey) [MMA]
Phrygia, Gordion, and King Midas in the Late Eighth Century BCE [MMA]
Greek and Roman Art in the Ancient World [MMA]
African Lost-Wax Casting: Bronze, Copper, and Brass [MMA]

The Mask of Agamemnon (1500-1450 BCE).

Discovered at Mycenae in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann, this mask was found over the face of a body located in a burial shaft, and Schliemann believed that he had discovered the body of the legendary Greek leader Agamemnon, which is where this object gets its name. However, it's been recently shown to date later than Agamemnon. Compare this to the funerary mask of King Tutankhamun.

Marble female figure, c. 26002400 BCE. Cycladic. In the collection of The MMA:

Namepiece of the Bastis Master. The recognition of distinct artistic personalities in Cycladic sculpture is based upon recurring systems of proportion and details of execution. Stylization of the human body that is elegant almost to the point of mannerism is characteristic of the Bastis Master. Because we do not know the names of most ancient artists, they are given conventional designations. The Bastis Master is named after a distinguished private collector who owned this piece.

Marble seated harp player, c. 28002700 BCE. Cycladic. In the collection of The MMA:

A male figure sits on a high-backed chair playing a stringed instrument. This work, one of the earliest of the small number of known representations of musicians, is distinguished by the sensitive modeling of the arms and hands.

Sleeping Muse, Constantin Brancusi, 1917-1918.

Bird in Space, Constantin Brancusi, 1923. (MMA)

Snake Movement II, Jan Arp, 1955.

Three female figures, c. 14001300 BCE. Mycenaean. MMA:

Most of the clay figurines made on mainland Greece in the late fourteenth and early thirteenth centuries B.C. are female and seem to represent goddesses. Like these three figurines, many of them are crowned, wear long dresses, and stand in conventional poses with hands raised, resting on hips, held between the breasts, or with elbows raised and fists brought against the top of the chest. While these Mycenaean figurines ultimately derive from Cretan types, their proliferation on the Greek mainland may indicate an influence from the Near East, particularly Syria, where small clay goddesses were made in abundance at this time. They have been recovered in vast numbers from certain regions like the Argolid, Attica, and Thebes. Although very few have been found in situ, some were placed in sanctuaries, where they were used as votive offerings, or in tombs, where they may have served as protective goddesses.

These terracotta female figurines are referred to as phi [...] or psi figurines, for their resemblance in shape to those Greek letters. They generally wear a long, enveloping garment, perhaps a kind of robe. Their long hair is usually drawn back in a plait or "ponytail," with some loose locks over the forehead. Often, they are adorned with a polos, a tall headdress associated with divinities, and a necklace.

The two phi-type figurines depicted here have circular bodies completely covered with painted wavy lines, perhaps indicating folds of drapery. Breasts are indicated, although the arms are little more than bulges hanging down at the sides. Their faces are typically pinched, with eyes applied as separate slips of clay. The tau-type figurine has the conventional hollow, columnar stem with the head rendered somewhat larger in proportion to the body. Characteristically, the figure is high waisted with arms, rendered as singly applied strips of clay, folded neatly over the breasts. Like the other two figurines, this one wears a long garment, only here it is simply decorated with two vertical lines down the front and back. The figurine's coiffure is particularly distinct, with a plait that is rendered over the top of the headdress and down the back of the neck. A fringe of hair peeks out from under the edge of an elaborately festooned polos.

Woman of Willendorf, c. 30,000-25,000 BCE.

Fresco fragment with "genii" from ramp house deposit, c. 1500 BCE. Mycenaean.

The Treasury of Atreus is a tholos (beehive) tomb at Mycenae, Greece.

It was built around 1250 BCE. The lintel stone above the doorway weighs 120 tons. After a burial, the entrance to the tomb was filled in with soil, leaving a small mound with most of the tomb underground. Because it is so elaborate in appearance, when it was discovered, it was thought to house a great treasury. It does for archaeologists and art historians - just not the kind of treasury the discoverers had in mind.

An example of a unique feature of Mycenaean architecture is found in this "cyclopean structure".
Corbel vaulting is a way for the architects and builders to span space. Compare this to the post and lintel structures at Stonehenge.

Octopus vase, c. 1400-1300 BCE. Mycenaean.

The shape takes its name from the configuration of the spout and the two attached handles. Such jars were commonly used to transport liquids. Mycenaean artists adopted the marine motifs from Minoan antecedents. [MMA]

Octopus vase, c. 1580-1100 BCE. Minoan.

Larnax (chest-shaped coffin), mid-13th century BCE. Minoan. MMA:

This type of terracotta Minoan larnax (chest) with gabled lid was the standard burial vessel used in Crete from the early fourteenth to twelfth century B.C. Typically, it has a raised border and recessed panels on all four sides. Its structure suggests a wooden prototype, and recent scholarship has identified Egyptian linen chests as the probable models. The deceased was placed in a flexed position, and the larnax was secured with a cord strung through the holes in its rim and lid.

Spirals, wavy lines, checkerboards, and multiple arcs decorate the body and lid of this larnax. These nonfigural motifs, which are also well attested in contemporary pottery, may be simply decorative, or they may be conventional renderings of naturalistic images, such as rocky terrain or the sea.

The Palace of Knossos: main entrance, c. 1500 BCE. Minoan.

Palace of Knossos: the queen's apartment or megaron, c. 1500 BCE.

Detail of above.

Another fresco at Knossos.

Boxers, c. 1650 BCE (fresco).

Snake Goddess, c. 1500 BCE. Minoan.

Goddess with poppy pins, c. 1500 BCE. Minoan.

The ancient Greeks portrayed the divinities Hypnos (Sleep), Nyx (Night), and Thanatos (Death) wreathed with poppies or carrying poppies in their hands. They adorned statues of Apollo, Asklepios, Pluto, Demeter, Aphrodite, Kybele, Isis and other deities in like manner. Sometimes ears of corn were added to the bunch of poppies. [Source]

Bee pendant, c. 1700 BCE. Minoan.

Bees are common symbols especially in ancient cultures, because they represent industrious and the collective. In ancient Rome bees also symbolized bravery.

Dancer, c. 1500 BCE. Minoan.

A sketch of Minoan facial types.

Compare these faces and the Minoan paintings to that of the Egyptians. You'll find similarities in style and coloring conventions but differences in subject and meaning.

Fisherman, c. 1500 BCE. Minoan.

Bull signet ring. Possibly before 2000 BCE. Minoan.

The "Toreador" Fresco, c. 1700-1400 BCE. Minoan.

Rhyton (a type of vase) in the form of a bull's head, ca. 14501400 BCE

This vase in the form of a bull's head is a type of libation vessel known as a rhyton. It was filled either by immersion in a large container or through the hole at the top of the animal's head. Wine, blood, or some other designated liquid was poured through the hole in the animal's muzzle. Using the principle of the siphon, the liquid would not flow out as long as the opening at the top was closed with the thumb. Such libations were part of sacrificial offerings or other ceremonies performed at funerary and religious rituals. The rhyton is articulated with ears and horns in relief, and glaze strokes indicate the forelock and dark markings on the animal's hide. [MMA]