In Minoan art there was a marked preference for recognizable subjects decorative in application but based on observation of marine and floral motifs peculiar to Crete such as on Octopus Vase. Another example of specifically Minoan naturalism is the treatment of the landscape.wall in the Gryphon Mural in the throne room at Knossos. In this mural three decorative wavy lines suggest the actual appearance of the landscape from the northern shore of Knossos where three mountain ranges are superimposed on one another behind a narrow reedy coastline.
The Island of Crete
The remarkable coastline of Crete with its extraordinary number of bays, gulfs, peninsulas and islands offered excelent natural harbor facilities and the early settlers soon turned to shipping as a means of livehood. Their chief income was probably derived from the carrying trade for less venturesome neighbors, but the Minoans were also great metallurgists of the ancient world. Their emergence as a dominant group in the Bronze Age testifies to Minoan skill in metalworking and the full exploitation of natural resources of metal on Crete as well as those of the subordinate cultures in the Aegean are indicates a long period of political supremacy. This dominance is recorded in the traditional legens of the levying of annual tribute, myths which certainly contain a substratum of fact. Important sites on the island which have hoarded treasures to be discovered in modern times are Knossos, Gournia, Palaikastro and Hagia Triada.
The identify of settlers on the island of Crete is as conjectural as are the reasons for thier sudden and apparently mysterious disappearance sometime. The myth of the beautiful Europa, mother of Minos, the traditional founder who was transported to Crete form Greece on the back of Zeus disguised as a bull, points to possible European origin: other theories suggest African and still others favor Mesopotamian ancestors. Minoan art indicates a society predominantly middle class with no strongly entrenced nobility or priest class. The individuality and freedom of the style indicate a social patern without the limitations and restrictions imposed by hieratical tradition. The rulers at Knossos may have had some feudal supremacy over the other maritime powers in Crete, but possibly these sea klings were originally merely sucessful shipping merchants. Perhaps the rambling plan of the palace at Knossos acquired its labyrinthine character in the process of commercial expansion as a combination residence-warehouse with additions. In appearance the Minoans were very sophisticated and elegant in their dress and manners: they were athletically slender and grateful and the present a very smart aspect to modern eyes. The sudden disappearance of Minoan civilization suggests the occurrence of a great catastrophe, perhaps invansion by a plundering tribe while the self confident Minoans slept, secure in their sea supremacy or perhaps fire, tidal wave, earthquake, or systematic pillage and sack. Some evidende of haste in the abandonment of the settlements reinforces the first suggestion.
Because it used a variety of materials, Minoans architecture was quite flexible in its forms. The principle of construction used was the trabeated system, the materials were wooden beams and clay mortar, faced with gypsum in the upper stories with stone used in the massive artificial substructure and foundations. The temple was unknown in Minoan architecture although the rooms around the central court of the palace at Knossos contain the symbols of the Labrys of the probable religious significance and the throne room has lustral bassins for ceremonial usage. In general the scale of the buildings was intimate, the fittings were comportable, modern conveniences were common, and the total effect seems to be an interior emphasis, modern in attitude, rather than a striving for external symbols of grandeur.
The Palace at Knossos
The palace of King Minos at Knosossos was large low, rambling building. Originally it may have been several buildings, later connected. The labyrinth, the mazelike plan of the rambling palace, led to the development of the myths of the Minotaur and the tradition of its architect, the great fabricator, Daedalus: but it may have been merely a series of storerooms for thr sea kings. The theater like area at the northwest corner of the vast complex with its circular orchestra may have had more than secular and dramatic importance for festival drama anf perhaps the athletic contests of the Minoans originally were part of religious observance. Only the seaside was guarded at Knossos and the general effect of Minoan architecture is one of the openness, freedom and luxury. The large central courtyard was approached by broad stairways open at the sides and supported by columns. The columns always tapered from capital to foot with no base, presenting a mushroom aspect. The abacus or squared block at the top of the capital was like that of the archaic Doric in later Hellenic times. The form was possibly related to tree worship.
Ruins of less important palaces, smaller in scale and more unified in plan, have been found at Phaistos and Hagia Triada. In these there was a greater use of peristyles, forming more intimate courtyards and of loggias.
Most of the arts of the Minoans were not of monumental scale or symbolic grandeur for they were not used in the service of the gods or in the exemplification of the ideals of a strong government. They arts of painting, sculpture and the object of everyday use were related to other artistic forms. The vitality and freshness of outlook in wall painting were repeated in vase paintings and in the carvel stone vases.
Wall paintings had no relation to sculpture, as they had had in Egypt. Minoan murals were done in the true fresco technique the color and design were applied directly upon the wet plaster. This technique requires rapid execution and confidence since no corrections are possible once the wall dries.
As a resulth, there are an exceptional animation and a daring freedom in such examples as the Bull Leapers Fresco at Knossos.
There were little architectural sculpture and no monumental free standing sculptures, for the Minoan religion did not require sculpture and there were no temples to decorate. The materials of which the sculptures were made bronze, ivory, gold, copper, silver, terracotta and chryselephantine necessitated the substitution of miniature refinements for the aweinspiring grandeur of Egyptian massive sculptures. Some of the vases were carved in stone, a technique borrowed from the Egyptians and suited to the soft stone such as steatite used by the Minoans and Mycenaeans. The boxer Vase from Hagia Triada with its division of the stirrup cup (ceremonial farewell drinking cup, conical in shape) into diminishing registers, representing possibly sacred bulls, Minoan pillars, and ceremonial gymnasts, can be easily identified as related to other Minoan mediums and techniques. The Harvester Vase with its animated openmouthed hymnasts, their voices raised in thankgiving, reflects the freedom from convention mentioned above, which is noticeable in the artistic productions of the Aegean area in contrast to the restrictions present in the Nile and Tigris Euphrates civilizations. Even the metalwork and the repousse technique of gold tableware reflect a skill in bas-relief, with the representation of figures in landscape and a distinct creation of a sense of mood. The Vaphio Cupsreveal different moods, the contented grazing bulls and the active scene of capture, typically Mediterranean.