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by Archaeology Newsroom

Aegean Frescoes

In this article a brief but global approach is made to the complex problematic mainly of two issues concerning the Aegean painting during the Late Bronze Age: a. Appearance in Neopalatial Crete and then expansion of the figurative and decorative frescoes to the south insular region as well as to Mycenaean Greece, and b. The mechanism of the causal relation between the pictorial repertoire and the decorated space. As regards the first issue, it is argued that the explosive appearance of figurative and other subjects in frescoes from the down of the new palaces -in spite of any possible influence from abroad- is as a matter of fact a purely Cretan case and particularly of Knossos. The first generation of Minoan fresco painters can be ascribed to the tradition of the polychrome Kamares – style: because of the gradual decline of this luxurious style of pottery, some of the experienced painters who mastered the secrets of pigments and the precision of drawing and who were working in the palatial workshops seem to have switched to the new impressive art of wall-painting. Having as a brilliand model the Knossos palace, the fashion of wall-painting was quickly expanded in two homocentric cycles including Crete on the one hand and the south insular territory and Mycenaean Greece on the other. Being an art correlated with the social codes and the ideology of a social elite, wall-painting was only natural to meet certain limitations in its course. However, a very interesting contradiction is observed: while in Mycenaean Greece all the palatial centers display a rich wall-painting decoration, in Crete, the major palaces, with the exception of Knossos, have a few or no wall-paintings, although the mansions and villas of the island have widely adopted the new mode of decoration. Since the art of wall-painting, in its architectural adaptation, does not “travel”, its spreading necessarily demands the transfer of painters from one place to another. Therefore, a series of other issues are raised, such as the activity of Minoan artists outside Crete, which was expanding to the eastern Mediterranean basin (Tell Kabri in present Israel and mainly Avaris at the delta of Nile) at least during the first phase of wall-painting dissemination; the process and place of apprenticeship of the first non Minoan painters; the creation of painting workshops; and finally, the possibility of distinguishing the work of individual painters in the frescoes of Crete, Thera and Mycenaean Greece. As regards the second issue, the “architectural” function of the wall-paintings as a unifying factor of the decorated space is examined, as well as the illusionistic pictorial imitation of functional elements of the buildings. Then, on the base of works from Crete, Akrotiri and the Mycenaean palaces, the exact location of which is known, an attempt is made, so that an important dimension of these frescoes to be understood: how the wall-paintings convey the functional physiognomy of certain spaces, official and/or much frequented or private and “closed” to the everyday needs, as are the sanctuaries par excellence. It is also ascertained that, at least in certain cases, the choice of the pictorial subject was not arbitrary at all, but the result of perfect logic and programme. If the pictorial expression was contributing to the functional elevation of a space, each space seems to have equally dictated the choice of specific subjects from the rich thematic variety of the period. Thus, we can justifiably accept the existense of a mechanism of causal relation between the space and its decoration. Finally, given the forementioned data, a reference is made to the formation of trans-regional pictorial programs, which are repeated in large building complexes of similar function, such as the Mycenaean palaces. However, besides these manifold programs, it seems that minor ones were employed which were covering the specific needs of identification and function of some spaces, as mainly the Xeste 3 at Akrotiri permits us to detect.