Beauty in the Bronze Age - Minoan & Mycenaean Fashion

Beauty in the Bronze Age - Minoan & Mycenaean Fashion

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Dress and appearance in Bronze Age Greece (c. The Minoans turned the island of Crete into a Mediterranean powerhouse and dominated Aegean culture until around 1450 BCE when the Mycenaean civilization from the Greek mainland peaked and wrested control. Frescoes and figurines uncovered from this era reveal a fabulously colourful society that expressed itself through fashion, hair, and accessories. Both Minoan and Mycenaean women sought a pinched waist to achieve the epitome of a feminine aesthetic. The fashion of Mycenaean men, however, expressed their warlike temperament, in contrast to their Minoan counterparts, who embodied display and splendour.

Minoan Women

Artworks suggest that the wasp-waist was highly idealised in Minoan culture & body modification may have been implemented to achieve this.

Women are heavily represented amongst the archaeological finds from Knossos, Akrotiri, and other Minoan hubs. One of the most beautiful examples is the Snake Goddess Figurine which depicts the archetype of Minoan dress. This woman wears a flounced, layered skirt that falls to the ground. Her bodice has short sleeves and a scalloped neckline which reveals and accentuates her breasts. This is mirrored in the colourful frescoes which emphasise bright, eye-catching fabrics dyed a myriad of colours. Bold primary colours – reds, yellows, and blues − dominate the pattern scheme. To get these shades, the Minoans took advantage of the available natural resources. Saffron – now the world’s most expensive spice – was used to acquire yellow and murex sea snails created a rich purple.

One of the most interesting aspects of female dress was the use of corsets or tight thick belts to create an hour-glass figure. Artworks suggest that the wasp-waist was highly idealised in Minoan culture and body modification may have been implemented to achieve this. Corsets have, of course, gone in and out of fashion in the thousands of years since their early Cretan use. Minoan women also wore jewellery to frame their features. Hoop earrings, necklaces, and bangles were all popular forms of expression and decoration − gold and glass beads were used to give outfits that glamourous touch.

In the frescoes, women have black hair braided into long tendrils or locks. Their skin, in contrast, is typically a pale white, implying that the ideal women would have spent significant time indoors and that the archetype of feminine beauty could be obtained by focusing on domestic duties.

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Mycenaean Women

Mycenaean fashion was heavily influenced by its Minoan predecessor. Mainland Greek women adopted a similar flounced skirt and silhouette. However, it is notable that at certain points in Mycenaean history a more conservative closed bodice was preferred and, on occasion, just a simplistic tunic, sometimes belted. They wore knit shawls or cloaks over their dresses and secured their elaborate, twisted hairstyles with ivory hairpins.

Mycenaean women are often depicted with a distinctive accessory: the polos. A polos is a round, cylindrical crown, shaped almost like a side-turned wheel that was worn on the head. It was commonly sported by powerful women such as goddesses.

Minoan Men

Minoan men preferred to keep clothing to a minimum & are usually shown with a bare torso.

Minoan men preferred to keep clothing to a minimum and are usually shown with a bare torso. Like their female counterparts, they were not shy and enjoyed showing off their upper bodies which were well-muscled from competing in sports such as bull-leaping and boxing. Breechcloths, loincloths, and kilts were popular, especially when paired with a decorative codpiece. These garments were multicoloured with yellows, blues, and whites. Minoan men are also shown wearing hats with long, vibrant feathers protruding from their centre, and they accessorised with necklaces, bracelets, and ornamental bands that encircled their biceps. The designs on gold signet rings held particular significance. They served as seals, effectively a prehistoric signature or identity marker that could be impressed into clay. The Akrotiri Boxer Fresco shows two young boys boxing, however, only the boy on the left is adorned with jewellery which may indicate that such items were symbols of wealth or status.

Minoan men on frescoes are clean-shaven, and judging by the obsidian razor blades discovered in Early Bronze Age graves, a neat and presentable appearance was highly important. Minoan men are typically shown sporting several long black locks with the rest of their hair cut short. In contrast to the women, they are depicted with reddish-brown skin, similar to frescoes seen in Egypt. To acquire this darker tone, the ideal man would have spent a significant amount of time engaging in outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, and athletics. The exception to this is the famous Priest-King Fresco. By his codpiece, breechcloth, and muscled torso this individual appears to be a man. However, his skin has a pinkish hue far paler than the typical man’s skin but darker than a woman’s. Scholars argue that this could indicate a man from a high-status family who did not need to work outdoors.

Mycenaean Men

Mycenaean men liked to cover up slightly more than the Minoans. Kilts, tunics, and cloaks became fashion staples and are debatably less decorative. The Mycenaeans were known for their military prowess across the Aegean, and consequently, battle armour would have been a common feature of the male wardrobe. Their helmets consisted of a leather or felt cap (sometimes embellished with a plume) that was reinforced with boar tusks. The effort to make a single helmet would have been immense, involving the hunting of dozens of boars.

The Dendra Panoply exhibits full body armour, including a helmet, bronze breastplate, layered kilt, and shoulder guards which would have been secured with leather straps. In total, armour weighed a colossal 15 kg (33 lb), meaning serious strength and physical fitness would have certainly been an advantage, if not a necessity, in the Mycenaean army. Bronze greaves would have also protected the shin and leather kilts or corselets decorated with metal studs are depicted on objects such as the Warrior Vase.


Developments in male dress from the Minoan to the Mycenaean period reflect a growing prevalence of war and military importance. This is not to suggest that the Minoans did not engage in battle. Their position within the Aegean made them a prime target, meaning they would have almost certainly been skilled at defending themselves, but it was Mycenaean warfare that became a central component of Greek society. This is evidenced by the concentration of weapons and military equipment in the Mycenaean shaft graves. These men made it clear that they wanted to be remembered as warriors and fighters, leaving behind a legacy of strength, influence, and power.

There is very little difference between the fashion styles of Minoan and Mycenaean women which suggests that the female role remained relatively similar throughout the Bronze Age as there was no need to substantially alter the practicality of the silhouette. That being said, during the Minoan period women were the focal point of religion; represented as goddesses and priestesses at the forefront of ritual and ceremony. Their garments are more elaborate and intricate, and it has been argued that this indicates they played a more central role in Bronze Age religion (and possibly even politics) than Mycenaean women, who are often depicted with children and, consequently, greater familial and maternal responsibilities.


What is captivating is that these garments have the power to bring Greek myths to life. The Bronze Age is also known as the Heroic Age because it was thought to be the time in which mythical figures roamed the Earth. When we look at the frescoes, it is easy to imagine the colourful Minoan dress Ariadne would have worn as she gave her magical string to Theseus to guide him through the labyrinth or the glorious Mycenaean armour Agamemnon would have sported as he led his troops into battle against the Trojans.

Between c. 1250 - c. 1100 BCE, a series of earthquakes, droughts, famines, wars, and the invasion of the mysterious Sea Peoples whom we know little about brought on the Bronze Age Collapse. This series of disasters brought down some of the greatest civilisations the world has ever known and heralded the Greek Dark Ages (c. 1100 - c. 750 BCE) in which the Bronze Age styles were eventually replaced by the peplos and the chiton − the clothing we, in the modern day, most commonly associate with ancient Greece. In cultural hubs like Athens, clothing became more conservative for women whilst for men, nudity was idealised and normalised in certain social settings, signalling a widening of the gender divide.

3,000 years after the Bronze Age Collapse, the styles and beauty standards still resonate with a modern audience. Hourglass figures and well-muscled bodies are still glorified, and pinched-waist dresses appear commonly in the media. Although separated by an incredibly vast gap of time, it is fascinating to think that our prehistoric ancestors shared our aesthetic ambitions and tastes.

Minoans and Mycenaeans: Comparing Two Bronze Age Civilizations

A map detailing some of the active maritime trade routes in the Aegean during the Middle and Late Bronze Age. / AHE, Creative Commons

These cultures are often examined separately, and thus the ample cross-cultural transmission between them is overlooked.

By Kelly Macquire


Copper came into use in the Aegean area near the end of the predynastic age of Egypt about 3500 BC. The earliest known implement is a flat celt, which was found on a Neolithic house-floor in the central court of the palace of Knossos in Crete, and is regarded as an Egyptian product. Bronze was not generally used until a thousand years or more later. Its first appearance is probably in the celts and dagger-blades of the Second City of Troy, where it is already the standard alloy of 10% tin. It was not established in Crete until the beginning of the Middle Minoan age (MMI, c. 2000 BC). The Copper Age began in northern Greece and Italy c. 2500 BC, much later than in Crete and Anatolia, and the mature Italian Bronze Age of Terremare culture coincided in time with the Late Aegean (Mycenaean) civilisation (1600–1000 BC). The original sources both of tin and copper in these regions are unknown. [1]

Earliest implements and utensils Edit

Tools and weapons, chisels and axe-heads, spearheads or dagger-blades, are the only surviving artifacts of the Copper Age, and do not show artistic treatment. But some Early Minoan pottery forms are plainly copied from metal prototypes, cups and jugs of simple construction and rather elaborate design. The cups are conical and sometimes a stem-foot there are oval jars with long tubular spouts, and beaked jugs with round shoulders set on conical bodies. Heads of rivets which tie the metal parts together are often reproduced as a decorative element in clay. The spouted jars and pierced type of axe-head indicate that metallurgical connections of Early Minoan Crete were partly Mesopotamian.

Weapons and implements Edit

It is known that Middle Minoan bronze work flourished as an independent native art. To the very beginning of this epoch belongs the largest sword of the age, found in the palace of Malia. It is a flat blade, 79 cm long, with a broad base and a sharp point there is a gold and crystal hilt but no ornament on the blade. A dagger of somewhat later date, now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York is the earliest piece of decorated bronze from Crete. Both sides of the blade are engraved with drawings: bulls fighting and a man hunting boars in a thicket. Slightly later again (MM III) are a series of splendid blades from mainland Greece, which must be attributed to Cretan craftsmen, with ornament in relief, or incised, or inlaid with gold, silver and niello. The most elaborate inlays, pictures of men hunting lions and cats hunting birds, are on daggers from the shaftgraves of Mycenae. These large designs cover the whole of the flat blade except its edge, but on swords, best represented by finds at Knossos, the ornament is restricted to the high midribs which are an essential feature of the longer blades. The type belongs to the beginning of the Late Minoan (Mycenaean) age. The hilt is made in one piece with the blade it has a horned guard, a flanged edge for holding grip-scales, and a tang for a pommel. The scales were ivory or some other perishable substance and were fixed with bronze rivets the pommels were often made of crystal. A rapier from Zapher Papoura (Knossos) is 91.3 cm long its midrib and hilt-flange are engraved with bands of spiral coils, and its rivet-heads (originally gold-cased) with whorls. Ordinary Mycenaean blades are enriched with narrow mouldings, parallel to the midribs of swords and daggers, or to the curved backs of one-edged knives. The spearheads have hammered sockets. Other tools and implements are oval two-edged knives, square-ended razors, cleavers, chisels, hammers, axes, mattocks, ploughshares and saws. Cycladic and mainland Greek (Helladic) weapons show no ornament but include some novel types. A tanged spearhead has a slit (Cycladic) or slipped (Helladic) blade for securing the shaft and the halberd, a west European weapon, was in use in the Middle Helladic Greece. There are few remains of Mycenaean metal armour a plain cheek-piece from a helmet comes from Ialysos in Rhodes, and a pair of greaves from Enkomi in Cyprus. One of the greaves has wire riveted to its edge for fastening. [1]

Utensils Edit

Middle and Late Minoan and Mycenaean vessels are many. First in size are some basins found at Tylissos in Crete, the largest measuring 1.40 metres in diameter. They are shallow hemispherical bowls with two or three loop-handles riveted on their edges, and are made in several sections. The largest is composed of seven hammered sheets, three at the lip, three in the body, and one at the base. This method of construction is usual in large complicated forms. The joints of necks and bodies of jugs and jars were often masked with a roll-moulding. Simpler and smaller forms were also cast. The finest specimens of such vases come from houses and tombs at Knossos. Their ornament is applied in separate bands, hammered or cast and chased, and soldered on the lip or shoulder of the vessel. A richly decorated form is a shallow bowl with wide ring-handle and flat lip, on both of which are foliate or floral patterns in relief. [1]

A notable shape, connecting prehistoric with Hellenic metallurgy is a tripod-bowl, a hammered globular body with upright ring-handles on the lip and heavy cast legs attached to the shoulder.

Statuettes Edit

Purely decorative work is rare among Minoan bronzes, and is comparatively poor in quality. There are several statuettes, very completely modelled but roughly cast they are solid and unchased, with blurred details. Well known are a figure of a praying or dancing woman from the Troad, now at Berlin, and another from Hagia Triada praying men from Tylissos and Psychro, another in the British Museum, a flute-player at Leyden, and an ambitious group of a man turning a somersault over a charging bull, known as the Minoan Bull-leaper. This last was perhaps a weight there are smaller Mycenaean weights in the forms of animals, filled with lead, from Rhodes and Cyprus. Among the latest Mycenaean bronzes found in Cyprus are several tripod-stands of simple openwork construction, a type that has also been found with transitional material in Crete and in Early Iron Age (Geometric) contexts on the Greek mainland. Some more elaborate pieces, cast in designs of ships and men and animals, belong to a group of bronzes found in the Idaean cave in Crete, most of which are Asiatic works of the 9th or 8th centuries BC. The openwork tripods may have had the same origin. They are probably not Greek.

Geometric Period Edit

During the Dark Ages of the transition from bronze to iron, the decorative arts stood almost still but industrial metalwork was freely produced. There are a few remains of Geometric bronze vessels, but as in the case of the Early Minoan material, metal forms are recorded in their pottery derivatives. Some vase-shapes are clearly survivals from the Mycenaean repertory, but a greater number are new, and these are elementary and somewhat clumsy, spherical or biconical bodies, huge cylindrical necks with long band-handles and no spouts. Ceramic painted ornament also reflects originals of metal, and some scraps of thin bronze plate embossed with rows of knobs and lightly engraved in hatched or zig-zag outline doubtless represent the art which the newcomers brought with them to Greek lands. This kind of decorative work is better seen in bronzes of the closely related Villanova culture of north and central Italy. A novel feature is the application of small figures in the round, particularly birds and heads of oxen, as ornaments of handles, lids and rims. The Italian Geometric style developed towards complication, in crowded narrow bands of conventional patterns and serried rows of ducks but contemporary Greek work was a refinement of the same crude elements.

Engraving appears at its best on the large catch-plates of fibulae, some of which bear the earliest known pictures of Hellenic mythology. Small statuettes of animals were made for votive use and also served as seals, the devices being cast underneath their bases. There is a large series of such figures, mostly horses, standing on engraved or perforated plates, which were evidently derived from seals among the later examples are groups of men and centaurs. Pieces of tripod-cauldrons from Olympia have animals lying or standing on their upright ring-handles, which are steadied by human figures on the rims. Handles and legs are cast, and are enriched with graceful geometric mouldings. The bowls are wrought, and their shape and technique are pre-Hellenic. Here are two of the elements of classical Greek art in full course of development: the forms and processes of earlier times invigorated by a new aesthetic sense. [1]

Oriental influence Edit

A third element was presently supplied in the rich repertory of decorative motives, Egyptian and Assyrian, that was brought to Europe by Phoenician traders or fetched from Asia by adventurous Greeks. A vast amount of oriental merchandise found its way into Greece and Italy around 800 BC. There is some uncertainty about the place of manufacture of much of the surviving bronze work, but the same doubt serves to emphasize the close resemblance that these pieces, Phoenician, Greek or Etruscan, bear to their Assyrian or Egyptian models. Foremost among them are the bowls and shields from the Idaean cave in Crete. These interesting bowls are embossed with simple bands of animals, the shields with bold and complicated designs of purely oriental character. It is unlikely that a Greek craftsman in this vigorous Geometric age could suppress his style and produce mechanical copies such as these. So in Etruscan graves beside inscribed Phoenician bowls there have been found great cauldrons, adorned with jutting heads of lions and griffins, and set on conical stands which are embossed with Assyrian winged monsters.

Classical Greek and Etruscan Edit

The bowl and stand were favourite archaic forms. The Greek stand was a fusion of the cast-rod tripod and the embossed cone. Some early examples have large triangular plates between the legs, worked in relief but the developed type has separate legs and stays of which the joints are masked with decorative rims and feet and covering-plates. These ornaments are cast and chased, and are modelled in floral, animal and human forms. The feet are lions' paws, which sometimes clasp a ball or stands on toads the rims and plaques bear groups of fighting animals, warriors, revelles or athletes, nymphs and satyrs, or mythological subjects in relief. Feasters recline and horsemen gallop on the rims of bowls handles are formed by single standing figures, arched pairs of wrestlers, lovers holding hands, or two vertical soldiers carrying a horizontal comrade. Nude athletes serve as handles for all kinds of lids and vessels, draped women support mirror-disks around which love-gods fly, and similar figures crown tall shafts of candelabra. Handle-bases are modelled as satyr-masks, palmettes and sphinxes. This is Greek ornament of the 6th and later centuries. Its centres of manufacture are not precisely known, but the style of much archaic work points to Ionia.

Etruscan fabrics approach their Greek originals so closely that it is not possible to separate them in technique or design, and the Etruscan style is no more than provincial Greek. Bronze was quite plentiful in Italy, the earliest Roman coinage was of heavy bronze, and there is literary evidence that Etruscan bronzes were exported. The process of line engraving seems to have been a Latin speciality it was applied in pictorial subjects on the backs of mirrors and on the sides large cylindrical boxes, both of which are particularly connected with Praeneste. The finest of all such boxes, the Firconi cista in the Villa Giulia at Rome, bears the signature of a Roman artist. These belong to the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Greek mirrors of the same period are seldom engraved the disk is usually contained in a flat box which has a repoussé design on its lid. [1]

Hellenistic and Roman Edit

Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman forms are more conventional, and the new motives that belong to these periods are mostly floral. Busts and masks are the usual handle-plaques and spouts heads and limbs of various animals are allotted certain decorative functions, as for instance the spirited mules' heads mentioned by Juvenal, which formed the elbow-rests of dining couches. These structural pieces are frequently inlaid with silver and niello. Bronze chairs and tables were commonly used in Hellenistic and Roman houses, and largely took the place of monumental vases that were popular in earlier days. Small household articles, such as lamps, when made of bronze are usually Roman, and a peculiarly Roman class of personal ornaments is a large bronze brooch inlaid with coloured enamels, a technique which seems to have had a Gaulish origin.

Fine art Edit

Bronze statuettes were also made in every period of antiquity for votive use, and at least in Hellenistic and Roman times for domestic ornaments and furniture of household shrines. But the art of bronze statuary hardly existed before the introduction of hollow casting, about the middle of the 6th century BC. The most primitive votive statuettes are oxen and other animals, which evidently represent victims offered to the gods. They have been found abundantly on many temple sites. But classical art preferred the human subject, votaries holding gifts or in their ordinary guise, or gods themselves in human form. Such figures are frequently inscribed with formulas of dedication. Gods and goddesses posed conformably with their traditional characters and bearing their distinctive attributes are the most numerously represented class of later statuettes. They are a religious genre, appearing first in 4th-century sculpture and particularly favoured by Hellenistic sentiment and Roman pedantry. Many of them were doubtless votive figures, others were images in domestic shrines, and some were certainly ornaments. Among the cult-idols are the dancing Lares, who carry cornucopias and libation-bowls. The little Heracles that Lysippus made for Alexander was a table-ornament (epitrapezios): he was reclining on the lion's skin, his club in one hand, a wine-cup in the other.

Technique Edit

With the invention of hollow casting bronze became the most important medium of monumental sculpture, largely because of its strength and lightness, which admitted poses that would not be possible in stone. But the value of the metal in later ages has involved the destruction of nearly all such statues. The few complete figures that survive, and a somewhat more numerous series of detached heads and portrait-busts, attest the excellence of ancient work in this material. The earliest statuettes are chiselled, wrought and welded next in time come solid castings, but larger figures were composed of hammered sections, like domestic utensils, each part worked separately in repoussé and the whole assembled with rivets (σφυρήλατα). Very little of this flimsy fabric is extant, but chance has preserved one bust entire, in the Polledrara Tomb at Vulci. This belongs to the early 6th century BC, the age of repoussé work.

The process was soon superseded in such subjects by hollow casting, but beaten reliefs, the household craft from which Greek bronze work sprang, persisted in some special and highly perfected forms, as handle-plates on certain vases, emblemata on mirror-cases, and particularly as ornaments of armour, where light weight was required. The Siris bronzes in the British Museum are shoulder-pieces from a 4th-century cuirass. Casting was done by the cire perdue process in clay moulds, but a great deal of labour was spent on finishing. The casts are very finely chased, and most large pieces contain patches, inserted to make good the flaws. Heads and limbs of statues were cast separately and adjusted to the bodies: besides the evidence of literature and of the actual bronzes, there is an illustration of a dismembered statue in the making on a painted vase in Berlin. [1]

Pliny and other ancient writers have much to say in regard to various alloys of bronze — Corinthian, Delian, Aeginetan, Syracusan — in regard to their composition and uses and particularly to their colour effects, but their statements have not been confirmed by modern analyses and are sometimes manifestly false. Corinthian bronze is said to have been first produced by accident in the Roman burning of the city (146 BC) when streams of moten copper, gold and silver mingled. Similar tales are told by Plutarch and Pliny about the artists' control of colour: Silanion made a pale-faced Jocasta by mixing silver with his bronze, Aristonidas made Athamas blush with an alloy of iron. There is good evidence that Greek and Roman bronzes were not artificially patinated, though many were gilt or silvered. Plutarch admires the blue colour of some very ancient statues at Delphi, and wonders how it was produced Pliny mentions a bitumen wash, but this was doubtless a protective lacquer and a 4th-century inscription from Chios records the regulations made there for keeping a public statue clean and bright. [1]

This section is not concerned with sculpture in bronze, but rather with the many artistic applications of the metal in connection with architecture, or with objects for ecclesiastical and domestic use. Why bronze was preferred in Italy, iron in Spain and Germany and brass in the Low Countries cannot be satisfactorily determined national temperamente is impressed on the choice of metals and also on the methods of working them. Centres of artistic energy shift from one place to another owing to wars, conquests or migrations. [2]

Roman and Byzantine Empires Edit

Leaving alone remote antiquity and starting with Imperial Rome, the working of bronze, inspired probably by conquered Greece, is clearly seen. There are ancient bronze doors in the Temple of Romulus in the Roman Forum others from the baths of Caracalla are in the Lateran Basilica, which also contains four fine gilt bronze fluted columns of the Corinthian order. The Naples Museum contains a large collection of domestic utensils of bronze, recovered from the buried towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which show a high degree of perfection in the working of the metal, as well as a wide application of its use. A number of moorings in the form of finely modelled animal heads, made in the 1st century AD, and recovered from Lake Nemi in the Alban hills some years ago, show a further acquaintance with the skilful working of this metal. The throne of Dagobert in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, appears to be a Roman bronze curule chair, with back and part of the arms added by the Abbot Suger in the 12th century.

Byzantium, from the time when Constantine made it the seat of empire, in the early part of the 4th century, was for 1,000 years renowned for its works in metal. Its position as a trade centre between East and West attracted all the finest work provided by the artistic skills of craftsmen from Syria, Egypt, Persia, Asia Minor and the northern shores of the Black Sea, and for 400 years, until the beginning of the Iconoclastic period in the first half of the 8th century, its output was enormous. Several Italian churches still retain bronze doors cast in Constantinople in the later days of the Eastern Empire, such as those presented by the members of the Pantaleone family, in the latter half of the 11th century, to the churches at Amalfi, Monte Cassino, Atrani and Monte Gargano. Similar doors are at Salerno and St Mark's, Venice, also has doors of Greek origin.

Germany Edit

The period of the iconoclasts synchronised with the reign of the Frankish emperor Charlemagne, whose power was felt throughout western Europe. Some of the craftsmen who were forced to leave Byzantium were welcomed by him in his capitals of Cologne and Aix-la-Chapelle and their influence was also felt in France. Another stream passed by way of the Mediterranean to Italy, where the old classical art had decayed owing to the many national calamities, and here it brought about a revival. In the Rhineland and elsewhere in Europe the terms "Rhenish-Byzantine" and "Romanesque" applied to architecture and works of art generally, testify to the provenance of the style of this and the succeeding period. The bronze parapet of Aachen Cathedral is of classic design and date probably from Charlemagne's time.

All through the Middle Ages the use of bronze continued on a great scale, particularly in the 11th and 12th centuries. Bernward, bishop of Hildesheim, a great patron of the arts, had bronze doors, the Bernward Doors, made for St Nicholas' church (afterwards removed to the cathedral) which were set up in 1015 great doors were made for Augsburg somewhere between 1060 and 1065, and for Mainz [3] shortly after the year 1000. A prominent feature on several of these doors is seen in finely modelled lion jaws, with conventional manes and with ring hanging from their jaws. These have their counterpart in France and Scandinavia as well as in England, where they are represented by the so-called Sanctuary Knocker at Durham Cathedral. [4]

Provision of elaborate tomb monuments and church furniture gave much work to German and Netherlandish founders. Mention may be made of the seven-branch candlestick at Essen Cathedral made for the Abbess Matilda about the year 1000, and another at Brunswick completed in 1223 also of the remarkable font of the 13th century made for Hildesheim Cathedral at the charge of Wilbernus, a canon of the cathedral. Other fonts are found at Brandenburg and Würzburg. Vast numbers of bronze and brass ewers, holy-water vessels, reliquaries and candelabra were produced in the Middle Ages. In general, most of the finest work was executed for the Church. [2] An important centre of medieval copper and brass casting (Dutch: geelgieten literally "yellow casting") was the Meuse Valley, especially in the 12th century. The city of Dinant gave its name to the French term for all types of artistic copper and brass work: dinanderie (see also section "Brass"). After the destruction of the town by Charles the Bold in 1466, many brass workers moved to Maastricht, Aachen and other towns in Germany and even England.

The end of the Gothic period saw some great craftsmen in Germany and the Habsburg Netherlands. The brass worker Aert van Tricht was based in Maastricht but worked in St. John's Cathedral, 's-Hertogenbosch and Xanten Cathedral. A bronze lectern for St. Peter's Church, Leuven is now in the collection of The Cloisters in New York. Peter Vischer of Nuremberg, and his sons, working on the bronze reliquary of Saint Sebald, a finely conceived monument of architectural form, with rich details of ornament and figures among the latter appearing the artist in his working dress. The shrine was completed and set up in the year 1516. This great craftsman executed other fine works at Magdeburg, Römhild and Breslau. Reference should be made to the colossal monument at Innsbruck, the tomb of the Emperor Maximilian I, with its 28 bronze statues of more than life size. Large fountains in which bronze was freely employed were set up, such as those at Munich and Augsburg. The tendency was to use this metal for large works of an architectural or sculpturesque nature while at the same time smaller objects were produced for domestic purposes. [2]

Italy Edit

By the 12th century the Italian craftsmen had developed a style of their own, as may be seen in the bronze doors of Saint Zeno, Verona (which are made of hammered and not cast bronze), Ravello, Trani and Monreale. Bonanno da Pisa made a series of doors for the duomo of that city, one pair of which remains. The 14th century witnessed the birth of a great revival in the working of bronze, which was destined to flourish for at least four centuries. Bronze was a metal beloved of the Italian craftsman in that metal he produced objects for every conceivable purpose, great or small, from a door-knob to the mighty doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti at Florence, of which Michelangelo remarked that they would stand well at the gates of Paradise. Nicola, Giovanni and Andrea Pisano, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Verrocchio, Cellini, Michelangelo, Giovanni da Bologna — these and many others produced great works in bronze.

Benedetto da Rovezzano came to England in 1524 to execute a tomb for Cardinal Wosley, part of which, after many vicissitudes, is now in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral. Pietro Torrigiano of Florence executed the tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey. Alessandro Leopardi, at the beginning of the 16th century, completed the three admirable sockets for flag-staffs which still adorn the Piazza San Marco, Venice. A further development showed itself in the production of portrait medals in bronze, which reached a high degree of perfection and engaged the attention of many celebrated artists. Bronze plaquettes for the decoration of large objects exhibit a fine sense of design and composition. Of smaller objects, for church and domestic use, the number was legion. Among the former may be mentioned crucifixes, shrines, altar and paschal candlesticks, such as the elaborate examples at the Certosa of Pavia for secular use, mortars, inkstands, candlesticks and a large number of splendid door-knockers and handles, all executed with consummate skill and perfection of finish. Work of this kind continued to be made throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. [2]

France Edit

The Candelabro Trivulzio in the Milan Cathedral, a seven-branch bronze candlestick measuring 5 meters in height, has a base and lower part decorated with intricately designed ornament which is considered by many to be French work of the 13th century the upper part with the branches was added in the second half of the 16th century. A portion of a similar object showing the same intricate decoration existed formerly at Reims, but was unfortunately destroyed during World War I. [ citation needed ]

In the 16th century the names of Germain Pilon and Jean Goujon are sufficient evidence of the ability to work in bronze. A great outburst of artistic energy is seen from the beginning of the 17th century, when works in ormolu or gilt bronze were produced in huge quantities. The craftsmanship is magnificent and of the highest quality, the designs at first refined and symmetrical but later, under the influence of the rococo style, introduced in 1723, aiming only at gorgeous magnificence. It was all in keeping with the spirit of the age, and in their own sumptuous setting these fine candelabra, sconces, vases, clocks and rich mountings of furniture are entirely harmonious. The "ciseleur" and the "fondeur", such as Pierre Gouthière and Jacques Caffieri, associated themselves with the makers of fine furniture and of delicate Sèvres porcelain, the result being extreme richness and handsome effect. The style was succeeded after the French Revolution by a stiff, classical manner which, although having a charm of its own, lacks the life and freedom of earlier work. In London the styles may be studied in the Wallace collection, Manchester Square, and at the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington in New York at the Metropolitan Museum. [2]

England Edit

Casting in bronze reached high perfection in England, where a number of monuments yet remain. William Torel, goldsmith and citizen of London, made a bronze effigy of Henry III, and later that of Queen Eleanor for their tombs in Westminster Abbey the effigy of Edward III was probably the work of one of his pupils. No bronze fonts are found in English churches, but a number of processional crucifixes have survived from the 15th century, all following the same design and of crude execution. Sanctuary rings or knockers exist at Norwich, Gloucester and elsewhere the most remarkable is that on the north door of the nave of Durham Cathedral which has sufficient character of its own to differentiate it from its Continental brothers and to suggest a Northern origin.

The Gloucester Candlestick in the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, displays the power and imagination of the designer as well as an extraordinary manipulative skill on the part of the founder. [5] According to an inscription on the object, this candlestick, which stands some 2 ft (61 cm) high and is made of an alloy allied to bronze, was made for Abbot Peter who ruled from 1109 to 1112. While the outline is carefully preserved, the ornament consists of a mass of figures of monsters, birds and men, mixed and intertwined to the verge of confusion. As a piece of casting it is a triumph of technical ability. [5] For secular use the mortar was one of the commonest of objects in England as on the Continent early examples of Gothic design are of great beauty. In later examples a mixture of styles is found in the bands of Gothic and Renaissance ornament, which are freely used in combination. Bronze ewers must have been common of the more ornate kind two may be seen, one at South Kensington and a second at the British Museum. These are large vessels of about 2 ft (61 cm) in height, with shields of arms and inscriptions in bell-founders' lettering. Many objects for domestic use, such as mortars, skillets, etc., were produced in later centuries. [1] [2]

Bells Edit

In northern Europe, France, Germany, England and the Netherlands, bellfounding has been an enormous industry since the early part of the Middle Ages. Unfortunately a large number of medieval bells have been melted down and recast, and in times of warfare many were seized to be cast into guns. Early bells are of graceful outline, and often have simple but well-designed ornaments and very decorative inscriptions for the latter a separate stamp or die was used for each letter or for a short group of letters. In every country bell-founders were an important group of the community in England a great many of their names are known and the special character of their work is recognizable. Old bells exist in the French cathedrals of Amiens, Beauvais, Chartres and elsewhere in Germany at Erfurt, Cologne and Halberstadt. The bell-founding industry has continued all through the centuries, one of its later achievements being the casting of "Big Ben" at Westminster in 1858, a bell of between 13 and 14 tons in weight. [1] [2]

In more recent years, bronze has to some extent replaced iron for railings, balconies and staircases, in connection with architecture the style adopted is stiffly classical, which does not call for a very large amount of ornamentation, and the metal has the merit of pleasant appearance and considerable durability.

Brass Edit

Brass is an alloy composed of copper and zinc, usually for sheet metal, and casting in the proportion of seven parts of the former to three of the latter. Such a combination secures a good, brilliant colour. There are, however, varieties of tone ranging from a pale lemon colour to a deep golden brown, which depends upon a smaller or greater amount of zinc. In early times this metal seems to have been sparingly employed, but from the Middle Ages onward the industry in brass was a very important one, carried out on a vast scale and applied in widely different directions. The term "latten", which is frequently met with in old documents, is rather loosely employed, and is sometimes used for objects made of bronze its true application is to the alloy we call brass. In Europe its use for artistic purposes centered largely in the region of the Meuse valley in south-east Belgium, together with north-eastern France, parts of the Netherlands and the Rhenish provinces of which Cologne was the center.

As far back as the 11th century the inhabitants of the town of Huy and Dinant are found working this metal zinc they found in their own country, while for copper they went to Cologne or Dortmund, and later to the mines of the Harz Mountains. Much work was produced both by casting and repoussé, but it was in the former process that they excelled. Within a very short time the term "dinanderie" was coined to designate the work in brass which emanated from the foundries of Dinant and other towns in the neighbourhood. Their productions found their way to France, Spain, England and Germany. In London the Dinant merchants, encouraged by Edward III, established a "Hall" in 1329 which existed until the end of the 16th century in France they traded at Rouen, Calais, Paris and elsewhere. The industry flourished for several centuries, but was weakened by quarrels with their rivals at the neighboring town of Bouvignes in 1466 the town was sacked and destroyed by Charles the Bold. The brass-founders fled to Huy, Namur, Middleburg, Tournai and Bruges, where their work was continued. [1] [2]

The earliest piece of work in brass from the Meuse district is the baptismal font at St Bartholomew's Church, Liège (cf. Fig. 1 in Gallery), a marvellous vessel resting on oxen, the outside of the bowl cast in high relief with groups of figures engaged in baptismal ceremonies it was executed between 1113 and 1118 by Renier of Huy, the maker of a beautiful censer in the museum of Lille.

From this time onward a long series of magnificent works were executed for churches and cathedrals in the form of fonts, lecterns, paschal and altar candlesticks, tabernacles and chandeliers fonts of simple outline have rich covers frequently adorned with figure subjects lecterns are usually surmounted by an eagle of conventional form, but sometimes by a pelican (cf. Fig. 2) a griffin surmounts the lectern at Andenne. The stands which support these birds are sometimes of rich Gothic tracery work, with figures, and rest upon lions later forms show a shaft of cylindrical form, with mouldings at intervals, and splayed out to a wide base. A number are found in Germany in the Cologne district, which may be of local manufacture some remain in Venice churches. About a score have been noted in English churches, as at Norwich, St Albans, Croydon and elsewhere. For the most part they follow the same model, and were probably imported from Belgium. Fine brass chandeliers exist, at the Temple Church, Bristol (cf. Fig. 3), at St Michael's Mount, Cornwall, and in North Wales. The lecterns must have set the fashion in England for this type of object for several centuries they are found, as at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, King's College Chapel, Cambridge, St Paul's Cathedral and some London churches (cf. Fig. 4). In the region of Cologne much brass-work was produced and still remains in the churches mention must be made of the handsome screen in the Xanten Cathedral, the work, it is said, of a craftsman of Maastricht, the Netherlands, at the beginning of the 16th century. A modern example is the Hereford Screen in the Hereford Cathedral, made by George Gilbert Scott in 1862 in a variety of metals where brass dominates (cf. Fig. 5)

The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden also produced chandeliers, many of great size: the 16th- and 17th-century type is the well known "spider", large numbers of which were also made in England and still hang in many London and provincial churches. The Netherlands also showed a great liking for hammered work, and produced a large number of lecterns, altar candlesticks and the like in that method. The large dishes embossed with Adam and Eve and similar subjects are probably of Dutch origin, and found in neighbouring countries. These differ considerably from the brass dishes in which the central subject —– the Annunciation, St George, St Christopher, the Agnus Dei, a mermaid or flowers — is surrounded by a band of letters, which frequently have no significance beyond that of ornamentation the rims are stamped with a repeating pattern of small designs. This latter type of dish was probably the work of Nuremberg or Augsburg craftsmen, and it should be noticed that the whole of the ornament is produced by hammering into dies or by use of stamps they are purely mechanical pieces.

Brass was widely used for smaller objects in churches and for domestic use. Flemish and German pictures show candlesticks, holy water stoups, reflectors, censers and vessels for washing the hands as used in churches. The inventories of Church goods in England made the time of the Reformation disclose a very large number of objects in latten which were probably made in the country. In general use was an attractive vessel known as the aquamanile (cf. Fig. 6) this is a water-vessel usually in the form of a standing lion, with a spout projecting from his mouth on the top of the head is an opening for filling the vessel, and a lizard-shaped handle joins the back of the head with the tail. Others are in the form of a horse or ram a few are in the form of a human bust, and some represent a mounted warrior. They were produced from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Countless are the domestic objects: mortars, small candlesticks, warming pans, trivets, fenders these date mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries, when brass ornamentation was also frequently applied to clockdials, large and small. Two English developments during the 17th century call for special notice. The first was an attempt to use enamel with brass, a difficult matter, as brass is a bad medium for enamel.

A number of objects exist in the form of firedogs, candlesticks, caskets, plaques and vases, the body of which is of brass roughly cast with a design in relief the hollow spaces between the lines of the design are filled in with patches of white, black, blue or red enamel, with very pleasing results (cf. Fig. 7). The nearest analogy is found in the small enamelled brass plaques and icons produced in Russia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The second use of brass is found in a group of locks of intricate mechanism, the cases of which are of brass cast in openwork with a delicate pattern of scroll work and bird forms sometimes engraved. A further development shows solid brass cases covered with richly engraved designs (cf. Fig. 8). The Victoria and Albert Museum of London, contains a fine group of these locks others are in situ at Hampton Court Palace and in country mansions. [1] [2]

During the 18th century brass was largely used in the production of objects for domestic use the manufacture of large hanging chandeliers also continued, together with wall-sconces and other lighting apparatus. In the latter half of the 19th century there came an increasing demand for ecclesiastical work in England lecterns, alms dishes, processional crosses and altar furniture were made of brass the designs were for the greater part adaptations of older work and without any great originality.

Monumental brasses Edit

The working of memorial brasses is generally considered to have originated in north-western Germany, at least one centre being Cologne, where were manufactured the latten or Cullen plates for local use and for exportation. But it is certain that from medieval times there was an equal production in the towns of Belgium, when brass was the favoured metal for other purposes. Continental brasses were of rectangular sheets of metal on which the figure of the deceased was represented, up to life-size, by deeply incised lines, frequently filled with mastic or enamel-like substance the background of the figures was covered with an architectural setting, or with ornament of foliage and figures, and an inscription. In England, possibly because the metal was less plentiful, the figures are usually accessories, being cut out of the metal and inserted in the matrices of stone or marble slabs which form part of the tomb architectural canopies, inscriptions and shields of arms are affixed in the same way. Thus the stone or marble background takes the place of the decorated brass background of the Continental example. The early method of filling in the incisions has suggested some connection with the methods of the Limoges enamellers of the 13th century. The art was introduced into England from the Low Countries, and speedily attained a high degree of excellence. For many centuries it remained very popular, and a large number of brasses still remain to witness to a very beautiful department of artistic working. [2]

The earliest existing brass is that of Bishop Ysowilpe at Verden, in Germany, which dates from 1231 and is on the model of an incised stone, as if by an artist accustomed to work in that material. In England the oldest example is at Stoke D'Abernon church, in Surrey, to the memory of Sir John D'Abernon, who died in 1277. Numerous brasses are to be found in Belgium, and some in France and the Netherlands. Apart from their artistic attractiveness, these ornamental brasses are of the utmost value in faithfully depicting the costumes of the period, ecclesiastical, civil or military they furnish also appropriate inscriptions in beautiful lettering (cf. Brass Gallery). [1] [2]

Excavations from sites where Indus Valley Civilisation once flourished reveal usage of bronze for various purposes. Earliest known usage of bronze for art form can be traced back to 2500 BC. Dancing Girl of Mohenjo Daro is attributed for the same. Archaeologists working on excavation site at Kosambi in Uttar Pradesh unearthed a bronze figure of a Girl riding two bulls which is dated approximately between 2000 - 1750 BC further reveals the usage of bronze for casting into an art form during the Late Harappan period. Another such instance of a Late Harappan period bronze artifact was found at Daimbad in Maharashtra suggesting a possibility of a more widespread usage of bronze then localised to places around Indus Valley alone.

Bronze continued to be used as a metal for various statues and statuettes during Classical Period as can be seen from the Bronze hoard discovered in Chausa Bihar, which consisted of bronze statuettes dating between 2nd BC to 6th Century AD.

Bronze art picked up in South India during the Middle Ages during the rule of Pallava's, 8th Century Ardhaparyanka asana icon of Shiva is one notable artifact from this period. Bronze sculpting however peaked during the reign of Cholas (c. 850 CE - 1250 CE). Many of the bronze sculptures from this period are now present in various museums around the world. Nataraja statue found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City is a remarkable piece of sculpting from this period.

Evidence Suggests Modern Greeks Have DNA Links to Mycenaeans

The tomb of Clytemnestra at Mycenae. Credit: Jean Housen /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

New emerging DNA evidence suggests that living Greeks are indeed descendants of the ancient Mycenaeans, who ruled mainland Greece and the Aegean Sea from 1,600 BC to 1,200 BC.

The evidence comes from a study in which scientists analyzed the genes from the teeth of 19 people across various archaeological sites within mainland Greece and Mycenae. A total of 1.2 million letters of genetic code were compared to those of 334 people across the world.

Genetic information was also compiled from a group of thirty modern Greek individuals in order to compare it to the ancient genomes. This allowed researchers to effectively plot how individuals were related to one another.

After comparing the DNA of modern Greeks to ancient Mycenaeans, a genetic overlap was discovered that suggests that these ancient Bronze Age civilizations laid the genetic groundwork for later peoples.

Mycenaean fresco depicting a woman. Credit: WIkimedia Commons/ Public Domain

Links between Minoans and Mycenaeans also found

One aspect that was revealed in the study was how the Mycenaeans themselves were closely related to the Minoan civilization, which flourished on the island of Crete from 2,000 BC to 1,400 BC.

Both cultures were shown to carry genes for brown hair and brown eyes, characteristics that are reflected on their frescoes and pottery, despite having different languages.

According to Harvard population geneticist Iosif Lazaridis, any difference between the two civilizations suggests that a second wave of people came to mainland Greece from Eastern Europe, yet were unable to reach the island of Crete — and in time they became known as the Mycenaeans.

Swedish Archaeologist Kristian Kristiansen at the University of Gothenburg commented on the significance of the study recently, saying that “The results have now opened up the next chapter in the genetic history of western Eurasia — and that of the Bronze Age Mediterranean.”

The Minoan Palaces in Crete

The Palaces of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Zakros

At the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, there were fundamental changes in Minoan society that profoundly influenced its cultures. The first palaces were erected around 2000-1900 BC. These palaces were Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Zakros. In fact, the design and construction of the first Minoan palaces share similarities with the Sumerian palaces in the region of Syria. For example, Ebla and Mari. Certainly, these monumental complexes reflect the existence in Crete of a strict social stratification and well-organized administrative structure.

Moreover, the findings from the palaces and tombs confirm the growing relations of the island with the East. Thereupon, the gradual integration of Crete in a complex network of economic and political relations with the wider region of the eastern Mediterranean is clear. The Minoan palaces were at the same time, huge religious centers. They played a leading role in the religious and spiritual development of the palace inhabitance and their visitors.

Palatial Tours Designed by Elissos

As a starting point, we at Elissos believe that every traveler who wishes to explore the Minoan Civilization of Crete should begin with a visit to Knossos Palace. For this reason, we are proud to suggest our purely cultural and historic tour of the Knossos Palace and Heraklion Archaeology Museum. In this tour, we urge you, through your expert tour guide, to travel through time and explore this 5000-year-old civilization. Not only walk on the ancient soil around the Knossos Palace, but also learn about the ancient arts, practices, and rituals.

Our approach is primarily experiential. This is a Travel through time-space-myths-arts and ritual practices. Moreover, allow your tour guide to walk you through the recently renovated Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. There, witness up close the brilliant Minoan artifacts and better understand their importance. Finally, we are positive that this tour will end with you feeling blessed and eager to find out more about the Minoans!

Well, you are in luck! Continue this wonderful Mind-Body-Spirit experience with our next South Crete Magic Tour. Visit the Palace of Phaistos, the second biggest Minoan Palace of Crete, resident of the mythical King Radamanthis, Mino’s brother. In order to fully grasp the magnitude of the Palace, let your expert guide show you around the 8000sqm “prehistoric city”. The insights and the extensive knowledge you will gain will be immeasurable! Then, visit with us the equally important Minoan Villa of Agia Triada. After your lunch break, your tour continues with a final stop at the Roman Capital of Crete, the town of Gortyn. See the oldest Roman theater and last but not least the oldest codified law system of Europe!

Mycenaean clothing

When the Minoan culture disappeared in about 1600 B.C.E. , for reasons archeologists still have yet to discover, the Mycenaean culture began to flourish on mainland Greece and invaded Crete, where they encountered the Minoans. The remains of Minoan culture influenced the Mycenaeans who adopted many of their clothing styles. Women's clothing is especially difficult to distinguish from Minoan clothing. Women wore the same long skirts and short-sleeved tops however, paintings indicate that Mycenaean women did occasionally cover their breasts with a bib or blouse. Mycenaean men appear to have worn loin coverings similar to the Minoans, but more frequently they seem to have worn short-sleeved tunics with a belted waist. The true distinguishing costumes of the Mycenaeans were their armor. Evidence indicates that Mycenaeans were warlike peoples. For battle Mycenaean soldiers wore protective clothing that wrapped the body from neck to thigh in bronze plates, bronze leg guards, and helmets constructed of boar's tusks.

Visual Arts + ICT

Aegean Civilization denotes the Bronze Age civilization that developed in the basin of the Aegean Sea. It had tree major cultures: the Cycladic, the Minoan and the Mycenaean. Aegean art is noticeable for its naturalistic vivid style, originated in Minoan Crete. No much was known about the Aegean civilization until the late 19th century, when archaeological excavations began at the sites of the legendary cities of Troy, Mycenae, Knossos, and other centers of the Bronze Age.

Cycladic culture – Early Bronze Age
(About 3000-2200 B.C.)

The Cycladic civilization of the Aegean Sea flourished at about the same time as the early Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. That is considered the forerunner of the first truly European civilization – Greece.

On the mainland their villages have been small independent units, often protected by thick walls. Over time, the buildings on Crete and in the Cyclads became more complex.Cycladic culture developed pottery, often decorated with rectangular, circular, or spiral designs. They also produced silver jewelry. The sculpture produced there was very unique compared to the art being produced by the Egyptians and Mesopotamians. These sculptures, commonly called Cycladic idols, were often used as grave offerings. Characteristic of that sculpture is that all were made of Parian marble, with its geometric, two-dimensional nature, which has a strangely modern familiarity. The Cycladic artists made obvious attempts to represent the human form. Therefore, Cycladic sculpture can safely be called the first truly great sculpture in Greece.

Minoan Culture – Middle Bronze Age
(About 2200-1800 B.C.)

Newcomers arrived in the Cyclades and on the mainland and caused destruction. For about two centuries civilization was disrupted. New pottery and the introduction of horses at this time indicate that the invaders were of the Indo-European language family.

Minoan culture developed on Crete, in the 2nd millennium B.C. Impressive buildings, frescoes, vases, and early writing are evidence of that flourishing culture. Great royal palaces built around large courtyards were the focal points of these communities. The Minoan empire appears to have coordinated and defended the bronze-age trade. They maintained a marine empire, trading not only with the Cyclades and the mainland but also with Sicily, Egypt, and cities on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Minoan religion featured a female snake deity, whose worship involved the symbolism of fertility and the lunar and solar cycles.

Minoan art is unusual for the time. It is naturalistic, quite different from the stiff stereotypes of contemporary art elsewhere. The vibrant colors, smooth lines, and sense of nature make Minoan art a pleasure for eyes even today. Minoan artists broke away from the two-dimensional expression of figure and created three-dimensional figures. The frescoes are art of exceptional beauty and their fluidity makes the figures dynamic. The easy pleasure-loving lifestyle comes across in their art. The Minoan civilization rivaled that of Egypt. From Crete, this style spread to the Aegean. On the Greek mainland it was modified by geometric tendencies.

Minoan palaces: Knossos, Phaestos, Malia, Zakros.

Mycenaean culture – Late Bronze Age
(1600-1200 B.C.)

It is believed that the Mycenaeans were responsible for the end of the Minoan culture with which they had many ties. This theory is supported by a switch on the island of Crete from the Cretan Linear A Script to the Mycenaean Linear B style script and by changes in ceramics styles and decoration. The styles on painted vases and weapons that depicted hunting and battle scenes are more formal and geometric than those of earlier examples, anticipating the art of classical Greece.

The architecture and art of Greek mainland was very different from the one of Crete. Mycenae and Tiryns were two major political and economic centers there at the time.

Cyclopean Architecture is the Mycenaean type of building walls and palaces. Palaces were built as large citadels made of piled up stones, as opposed to the openness of Minoan palaces. The citadel of Mycenae is an Acropolis – a citadel on raised area. The Lion Gate – entrance to the Acropolis of the city of Mycenae is an excellent example of this building practice combined with a corbelled arch – the triangular arch shape that the lions stand within.

Megaron is the fortress palace of the king at the center of a typical Mycenaean city. This is a characteristic form of Mycenaean palace found at many sites, including Troy. They are very symmetrical and its basic form is a forerunner of later Greek temple forms.

Tholos tombs are conical chambers with the subterranean burial chambers. The stonework of the tholos is very much influenced by Egyptian masonry techniques. There are 9 at Mycenae. There were found the gold death masks, weapons, and jewelry at the royal burial sites similar to Egyptian practice.

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Thesis subject : Adorn the head in the Aegean Bronze Age: hairstyle and headdress

Hairstyles and headdresses, as strong elements of communication, allow to address the cultural and identity affiliation of their wearers. This dissertation, through this new approach, aims to shed light on the place and role of hairstyles and headdresses in Aegean civilizations of the Bronze Age.

My study is mainly based on two complementary sources: direct sources (metal headbands) and indirect sources (iconography). My approach led to propose a new morpho-stylistic typology of hairstyle and head ornaments visible in iconography. The various representations have shown that certain hairstyles and headdresses are gendered, chrono-cultural and social markers. A double visual examination (macroscopic and microscopic observation) of the metal headbands enabled us to reconstruct their chaîne opératoire. This analysis highlighted technical differences (manufacture and decoration) and use wear closely linked to chrono-cultural contexts. This dissertation also suggests that the headbands should be worn in combination with a cloth.

Through the study of immaterial traces and the mobilization of various sources (iconographic, archaeological, textual and comparative), I tempted to perceive the tools and the gestures associated with the treatment of the hair, but also the materials which could have been used for making the head ornaments represented in iconography. Finally, reconstructions of the wearing of the headband have shown the multiple possibilities of how to wear this type of artefact.

Docteur en archéologie :
Sujet de thèse : Orner la tête à l’âge du bronze en Egée : de la coiffure à la parure

Chercheuse associée post-doctorante
Laboratoire d’affiliation : UMR 7041, ArScAn (Archéologies et Sciences de l’Antiquité)

Between the end of the Neolithic and the beginning of the European Bronze Age, metallurgy emerged. more Between the end of the Neolithic and the beginning of the European Bronze Age, metallurgy emerged in the Aegean area. At first considered as an innovative technical process at the end of the 5th millennium B.C., the metalworking diversifies itself during the Minoan and the Mycenaean periods, and is subject to various influences. The technological and morphostylitic studies of ornaments such as the “ring-idols” and headbands enable to better understand those phenomenons and their modalities.

The “ring-idols” display a concave ring-shaped form, surmounted by an extension with one or several perforations. Typical of the 5th and the 4th millennia B.C., they are mainly produced with metal (gold, silver, copper). The techniques identified for their production are innovating : hot or cold hammering, stamping or cutting. The “ring-idols” attest of the primary work of silver, in the Peloponnese and the northern islands. If the Aegean world maintains a local method of production at the end of the Neolithic period, regional innovations are also identified. It testifies of a high disparity between the regions in the north of Greece, in the south, and in the Aegean islands.

Similar techniques are used in the production of headbands. These head ornaments are revealing of a metalworking that extends from the 3rd millennium to the 2nd millennium B.C. The technological analysis of these artefacts has shown that their conception varies depending on the Aegean regions (continental Greece, Crete, and Cyclades) and on the period (Minoan or Mycenaean). These variations can be perceived at different scales : materials (gold, silver, copper), morphology (atypical, rectangular, biconvex), and ornamental techniques (repoussé, chasing, openwork, stamping).

A cross-approach of these two case studies demonstrate the usefulness of diachronic and supra-regional work for this kind of subject. This research allows to claim that metalworking knows a continuity during the Aegean Protohistory, while local particularisms are developing.

Ancient DNA reveals origin of first Bronze Age civilizations in Europe

Skeleton of one of the two individuals who lived in the middle of the Bronze Age and whose complete genome was reconstructed and sequenced by the Lausanne team. It comes from the archaeological site of Elati-Logkas, in northern Greece. Credit: Ephorate of Antiquities of Kozani, Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Greece. Dr Georgia Karamitrou-Mentessidi.

The first civilizations to build monumental palaces and urban centers in Europe are more genetically homogenous than expected, according to the first study to sequence whole genomes gathered from ancient archaeological sites around the Aegean Sea. The study has been published in the journal Cell.

Despite marked differences in burial customs, architecture, and art, the Minoan civilization in Crete, the Helladic civilization in mainland Greece and the Cycladic civilization in the Cycladic islands in the middle of the Aegean Sea, were genetically similar during the Early Bronze age (5000 years ago).

The findings are important because it suggests that critical innovations such as the development of urban centers, metal use and intensive trade made during the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age were not just due to mass immigration from east of the Aegean as previously thought, but also from the cultural continuity of local Neolithic groups.

The study also finds that by the Middle Bronze Age (4000-4,600 years ago), individuals from the northern Aegean were considerably different compared to those in the Early Bronze Age. These individuals shared half their ancestry with people from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, a large geographic region stretching between the Danube and the Ural rivers and north of the Black Sea, and were highly similar to present-day Greeks.

The findings suggest that migration waves from herders from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, or populations north of the Aegean that bear Pontic-Caspian Steppe like ancestry, shaped present-day Greece. These potential migration waves all predate the appearance of the earliest documented form of Greek, supporting theories explaining the emergence of Proto-Greek and the evolution of Indo-European languages in either Anatolia or the Pontic-Caspian Steppe region.

The team took samples from well-preserved skeletal remains at archaeological sites. They sequenced six whole genomes, four from all three cultures during the Early Bronze Age and two from a Helladic culture during the Middle Bronze Age.

The researchers also sequenced the mitochondrial genomes from eleven other individuals from the Early Bronze Age. Sequencing whole genomes provided the researchers with enough data to perform demographic and statistical analyses on population histories.

Sequencing ancient genomes is a huge challenge, particularly due to the degradation of the biological material and human contamination. A research team at the CNAG-CRG, played an important role in overcoming this challenge through using machine learning.

According to Oscar Lao, Head of the Population Genomics Group at the CNAG-CRG, "Taking an advantage that the number of samples and DNA quality we found is huge for this type of study, we have developed sophisticated machine learning tools to overcome challenges such as low depth of coverage, damage, and modern human contamination, opening the door for the application of artificial intelligence to palaeogenomics data."

"Implementation of deep learning in demographic inference based on ancient samples allowed us to reconstruct ancestral relationships between ancient populations and reliably infer the amount and timing of massive migration events that marked the cultural transition from Neolithic to Bronze Age in Aegean," says Olga Dolgova, postdoctoral researcher in the Population Genomics Group at the CNAG-CRG.

The Bronze Age in Eurasia was marked by pivotal changes on the social, political, and economic levels, visible in the appearance of the first large urban centers and monumental palaces. The increasing economic and cultural exchange that developed during this time laid the groundwork for modern economic systems—including capitalism, long-distance political treaties, and a world trade economy.

Despite their importance for understanding the rise of European civilisations and the spread of Indo-European languages, the genetic origins of the peoples behind the Neolithic to Bronze Age transition and their contribution to the present-day Greek population remain controversial.

Future studies could investigate whole genomes between the Mesolithic and Bronze Age in the Armenian and Caucasus to help further pinpoint the origins of migration into the Aegean, and to better integrate the genomic data with the existing archaeological and linguistic evidence.

Aegean Bronze Age art: meaning in the making

This richly illustrated book is not a usual introduction to Aegean Bronze Age art for archaeologists it does not aim at presenting a traditional history of Minoan and Mycenaean arts and hardly contains any study of Aegean iconography. Instead, the concept of this volume is a fresh, unconstrained approach to selected artistic features viewed from a phenomenological perspective and by using mainly Bronze Age Crete as an experimental ground. As the author, a renowned expert of the archaeology of Minoan Crete, mentions at the beginning, this volume evolved from teaching Ancient Art at the University of Toronto. In this study, he deliberately transgresses the common view of Aegean art as an ancient art by focusing on artefacts in their relation to action, praxis, and performance. The intention of the author is “to mobilise the rich material of the Aegean to create an approach that carries wider weight” (p. 30), an attempt that results in thought-provoking insights into ‘material processes’ of Aegean art from anthropological and art-theoretical perspectives. In short, this is a book for readers interested in anthropological theory and its application to Aegean art.

In Chapter 1, entitled “Theorising ‘Meaning in the Making’”, the author defines his goal. After demonstrating his approach of ‘scaffolding’ Aegean artistic objects, he sketches three selected thought-provoking models of explaining creativity of art: ‘biological monism’, ‘sociocultural non-dualism’, and ‘cognitive non-dualism’. The succeeding five chapters are devoted to different ‘praxeologies’. Each chapter is bipartite and consists of developing suitable art-historical categories followed by the presentation of Aegean examples in chronological order. Chapter 2 deals with different aspects of modelling of three-dimensional artistic objects such as figurines, architectural models, miniature vessels, votive limbs, and other small-scale substitutional artefacts. After a theoretical introduction, in which, amongst other issues, the difference between retrojective ‘models of’ and projective ‘models for’ is highlighted, a survey of Aegean examples of modelling reveals a large variety of substitutional forms, functions, and meanings. The subject of imprinting in Chapter 3 is associated with Aegean seals and, because of their small format, was connected with phenomena of miniature art and the reproduction of imagery at reduced scale. As the author points out, immediacy was attained by the intimate association of Aegean seals and signet-rings with the human body and the tactility of their impressions. In Chapter 4, variants of combining are discussed: the juxtaposition of different elements and materials, hybrid creatures in seal images, and the phenomenon of skeuomorphism, i.e. the cross-craft interaction of material and form, mainly by imitation in another material. Chapter 5 deals with phenomena of containing by analysing ‘strategies of containment’ in Aegean burial forms, storage vessels and rhyta, as well as different house forms and resident-visitor dynamics under such aspects as material and content, accessibility, and controlling flow and movement. Chapter 6 on fragmenting is dedicated to the vulnerability of objects, i.e. the creative potential of a fragment, such as a deliberate destruction, fragmentation or iconoclasm. With regard to the Aegean, phenomena of ritual breakage or smashing of offerings, mainly figurines and vessels, and the taking away of fragments as tokens of participation are discussed. The final chapter deals with the mobility of creativity in aesthetic production, the dynamics of temporal mutability between process and product, and related subjects. The book ends with endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

This volume deals with Aegean art from a remarkable and stimulating concept. The author combines material culture and cultural anthropology by applying methodologies taken from a reformed art history of the early 21 st century to Aegean art. By this approach he touches upon a multitude of theoretical, phenomenological layers of perception, resulting in an astonishing variety of aspects of Minoan art that can be included or associated with the selected five main subjects. The author does not analyse Aegean art, but instead has merely selected aspects of art, giving more weight to his methods of analysis than to Aegean art itself. Although readers adhering to a different methodological background might be tempted to talk of very general, less specific, almost universal, and possibly even superficial aspects, one can equally view them as deeper dimensions. For example, at first sight, one may doubt whether the observation that in Inuit societies miniatures were seen not as images, but as the actual origin of real objects, brings us closer to an adequate understanding of Aegean figurines and terracotta models. However, by this example of relationality and the reversed interaction of microcosm and macrocosm, the author points to a particular view on the macrocosm and a centralised world-consciousness by the palace of Knossos (pp. 64–65).

Although the book is useful for readers interested in art (and art theory) in general but also for Aegean archaeologists, when seen in its entirety, it is unclear to whom it is addressed. When, for example, the author emphasizes that Minoan peak sanctuaries were cult sites and “certainly not settlements or sites of any other function” (p. 47), it is obvious that the text is not written for Aegean archaeologists but, at the same time, the author presents detailed information on Minoan figurines and their find-places that is hardly of interest for art historians. In the ‘Aegean parts’ of the chapters, the author addresses many questions for whom his theoretical considerations are of no relevance. This results in a combination of abstract theory and a ‘traditional’ archaeological presentation, whereas the part ‘in between’ is neglected. Thus, the book combines two very different fields which, at least occasionally, do not really relate to each other.

The methodological “detour through some important theoretical terrain” (p. 28) in each chapter is sometimes more extensive than the occupation with the Aegean examples themselves. Of course, this can be useful for both art historians and Aegean archaeologists, but the latter may gain the impression that the author tries to develop a kind of hyper-abstract formula for explaining Aegean art when he speaks of “a single defining ontology” (p. 201). Although the main subject of this book is methodology, it must be highlighted that the author neglects the vivid development of methods applied to Aegean art in the past and only rarely enters current discussions of Aegean iconography.[1] When, for example, Alois Riegl is mentioned in the text (pp. 4, 111), this is not in connection with his seminal article on the Minoan golden relief cups from Vapheio (Riegl 2000). This singular focus on the most modern methodologies might disturb even art historians. Nonetheless, despite the fact that readers who are unfamiliar with, or uninterested in, approaches of ‘material processes’ could be disappointed by this book, the observations by the author open fresh perspectives on Aegean art. The focus on unexpected questions and new methods makes this book a courageous, challenging essay.

A vivid rivalry of different methodological approaches is highly welcome and, in the end our understanding of Aegean art only can profit by that. When seen from a more traditional point of view, it is obvious that, by the concept chosen by the author, several important aspects of Aegean Bronze Age art remain disregarded. Although one could argue that Mycenaeans did not possess any marked artistic inventiveness, it is regrettable that arts from the palatial Mycenaean mainland are almost totally missing in this book. Additionally, what is glaringly neglected in this study on Aegean art are aspects of iconography, multi-figural scenes with their highly versatile forms and meanings. In this book, by the term ‘art’ the author mostly means artefacts, not images and their ‘artistic language’. From this unusual focus evolves a strongly restricted view of Aegean art by excluding what Minoan and Mycenaean arts are famous for and most demanding for Aegean archaeologists. Hybrid creatures form the only exception, discussed in the chapter on combining, a rather atypical group of pictorial motifs in the Aegean. Thus, one could raise the criticism that this book presents a thematic selection limited only to the outer hull of what can be defined as ‘art’ in the Aegean Bronze Age.

It is notable that, with his concept of ‘creativity’, the author adheres to the model of an individual ‘creative artist’ in Bronze Age Crete. Additionally, when he proposes an explanation of the abundance of mural paintings at Neopalatial Knossos and Akrotiri by “a lot more visitors in a time of increased interregional trade” (p. 163), this reflects a somewhat naive understanding of visitors of ‘art’, reminding us of modern tourists visiting a museum. One may doubt whether categories such as ‘a fine work of art’, ‘a masterpiece’, “Minoan seals of exquisite beauty” (p. 187), and the hazardous term ‘freedom’, traditionally associated with modern art(ists) and frequently used in this study, really were relevant for the Aegean Bronze Age. Would it not be more suitable to talk, especially during the Neopalatial period, of the creation of original artistic concepts, iconographical conventions, and pictorial formulae by palatial artists that were more or less standardised, disseminated, imitated, creatively handled, simplified, misunderstood, or deliberately altered? Aegean iconography presents a plethora of examples for these mechanisms.

Given the complex development of Minoan art throughout Middle Minoan IIB–Late Minoan IB, it is a great simplification to talk of “the apparent primacy of seals in the development of figurative imagery” (p. 97), a rigid, one-sided view to which probably nobody studying Aegean iconography will subscribe. Although, the author draws attention to the basic difference between two- and three-dimensional art in his theoretical considerations, confusion is caused by his undifferentiated use of the term ‘wall painting’ for both contrasting media: Minoan mural painting on the flat wall and stucco relief images (pp. 6, 95–97, 124) the latter essentially share many artistic features with minor relief art, including seals. Additionally, it would be interesting to know the consequences drawn by the author from his very stimulating observations, worked out in several of his praxeologies, on the role of Knossos in the production of art during the Neopalatial period but, unfortunately, this is outside the scope of this book.

In contrast to other studies on Aegean art with a focus on theory, the author is well aware of chronological and other archaeological problems, although simplification and generalisation are inherent to this methodology. It is wholesome that the author filters the material and the archaeological evidence for his phenomena in a very critical way, for example, by pointing to our insecurities of defining ritual breaking when he concludes: “to suggest that fragmentation was a significant semiotic strategy in the Bronze Age Aegean is to overstate the case” (p. 185). A few mistakes deserve correction: the depiction of Bes/Beset on a seal-stone from Petras is spectacular, but definitely not “the only Aegean example known so far” (p. 106). In the mid-fifteenth century, the site of Akrotiri on Thera was not ‘Mycenaeanized’ (p. 188), but remained a deserted area below volcanic material. Additionally, it is problematic to speak of “the quasi-total absence” of the sphragistic use of seals on the Mycenaean mainland (pp. 91, 193) (see Panagiotopoulos 2014).

It is a difficult task to write an introduction to Aegean art that contrasts the character of a handbook, such as the volumes by S. Hood (1978), P. Betancourt (2007), and J.-C. Poursat (2008, 2014), that present the material and its artistic milieu, and this is also not the intention by the author of the present book. Instead, this volume has the great merit of looking at Aegean art from several new perspectives and of focusing on distinct qualities of the arts mainly from Minoan Crete. Readers who are interested in Aegean (including Mycenaean) art and iconography, but less familiar with issues such as “the aesthetic dimensions of technical action” (p. 194), probably will be disappointed by this volume, lacking as it does any closer look at Minoan landscape-painting and bull-leaping scenes and avoiding any mention of the monumental stone relief at the Lion Gate of Mycenae. Nonetheless, the author presents a theory-based and sometimes theory-centred, but always thought-provoking analysis of Aegean art.


Betancourt, P.P. 2007. Introduction to Aegean Art. Philadelphia.
Hood, S. 1978. The Arts in Prehistoric Greece. Harmondsworth.
Panagiotopoulos, D. 2014. Mykenische Siegelpraxis, Athenaia 5. Munich.
—. 2020. “The ‘Death of the Painter’. Towards a Radical Archaeology of (Minoan) Images,” In F. Blakolmer (ed.), Current Approaches and New Perspectives in Aegean Iconography, Aegis 18. Louvain-la-Neuve, 385–406.
Poursat, J.-C. 2008. L’art égéen 1. Grèce, Cyclades, Crète jusqu’au milieu du II e millénaire av. J.-C., Paris.
—. 2014. L’art égéen 2. Mycènes et le monde mycénien. Paris.
Riegl, A. 2000. “The place of the Vapheio cups in the history of art (1900),” In Ch.S. Wood (ed.), The Vienna School reader: politics and art historical method in the 1930s. New York, 105–127.

[1] For a short history of the methodologies of analysing Aegean iconography, see Panagiotopoulos 2020.

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