Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek Art

Minoan Art

A thriving seafaring civilization, the Minoans populated the island of Crete between the 27th and the 15th centuries B.C.E. Excavations of Minoan palaces have revealed the rich artistic tradition of these ancient people. Categorized by 20th century archaeologist Arthur Evans into three distinct periods, the Early, Middle and Late Minoan, much of what is known of Minoan culture can be found in their ceramics, frescoes, stone carving and metalwork.


The Minoans utilized terracotta clay to produce both ceramic pottery and sculpture. Minoan potters produced everything from jars and pots to small figurines depicting female deities. Early Minoan pottery was typically hand-shaped with burnished or incised geometric designs. The introduction of the potter’s wheel gave way to symmetrical vessels during the Middle and Late Minoan periods. These vessels were generally decorated with dark-on-light painted motifs, often depicting freeform marine creatures, such as fish and octopus.


Other vivid examples of Ancient Greek Minoan art are the frescoes found on excavated palace walls. Minoan painters utilized the wet type of fresco painting in which pigments were applied directly to wet plaster, binding the pigments to the wall, rather than simply painted atop dry plaster. Due to the fast drying time of plaster, these frescoes were executed quickly with fluid brushstrokes and graceful curving lines, producing dynamic movement of the figures and landscapes. Pigments used for fresco during this time included saffron, iron ore and indigo.

Minoan Queens Fresco

Minoan_Queens_Fresco Discovered at the palace at Knossos, this fresco typifies the bold contrast of colors, fluid brushstrokes and dynamic movement of Minoan painting. Although similar to the side-view and forward-facing-eye figures of Egypt, the graceful, curving lines of the hair, arms and hands distinguishes Minoan artists from their neighbors to the south.

Stone Carving

Another form of the Ancient Greek art of the Minoan people was stone carving, utilized for both decorative and practical purposes. The Minoans used soft stones, such as serpentine, steatite and soapstone, to create vases, bowls and stone seals. Used to denote ownership or provenance, stone seals were small discs of stone with carved insignias or other identifying marks, representing a particular person or house in a time in which literacy was not widespread.

Stone Seals


Stone Seals photo by Andree Stephan

Much like signet rings, Minoan stone carvers created stone seals to create marks of identification or ownership. The seals represented a specific person or house, and could be pressed into wax or drying pottery. Common characters were derived from nature, such as the flying fish on the lower left.


Articles of jewelry found in Minoan palatial excavations, as well as depictions of Minoan women in frescoes wearing jewelry, point to the fact that in addition to pottery, stone carving and painting, Minoan artists were also skilled metallurgists. Both gold and jewelry-making techniques were imported from trade outposts, such as Egypt, Syria and mainland Greece. Minoan artists produced small gold pendants, rings and ornaments, often depicting naturalistic figures of birds, insects, lions and bulls.

Malia Bees


“Bees of Malia” photo by Wolfgang Sauber

This pendant depicting two hornets carrying a honeycomb shows the naturalistic motifs common to Middle and Late Minoan art. The fine gold beading detail, called granulation, on the hornets’ abdomens and outlining the hanging discs demonstrates the sophistication of Minoan metallurgy.

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