Ancient Mediterranean + Europe
- Minoan art, an introduction
- Conservation vs. restoration: the Palace at Knossos (Crete)
- Kamares Ware Jug
- Snake Goddess
- Bull’s Head Rhyton
- Harvester Vase
- Octopus vase
- Statuette of a Male Figure (The Palaikastro Kouros)
- Hagia Triada sarcophagus
- Bull-leaping fresco from the palace of Knossos
- Minoan woman or goddess from the palace of Knossos (“La Parisienne”)
By Dr. Senta German
Ceramics for the wealthy
One of the most important aspects of Minoan culture was its ceramics. Pottery today may not seem particularly interesting or important, but in the second millennium B.C.E., it was a high art form and its manufacture was often closely associated with centers of power. Much like the production of porcelain for European royal houses in the 18th century, the production of pottery on Crete tells us about elite tastes, how the powerful met and shared meals, and with whom they traded.
This vase, found at Palaikastro, a wealthy site on the far eastern coast of Crete, is the perfect example of elite Minoan ceramic manufacture. It is 27 cm (about 10.5 inches) high, , hand-painted, and meant to hold a valuable liquid—perhaps oil of some kind. Its shape is somewhat unusual, constructed by together, while still leather hard (clay that is not quite dry), two shallow plates which had been made on a fast spinning potter’s wheel and with highly refined clay. The circular bases of these shallow plates are still visible in the center of both sides of the flask. A spout and stirrup-style handles (which would allow the user to carefully control the flow of the liquid out of the container) were added by hand, as well as a base, to facilitate the standing upright of the vessel.
Inspired by the sea
Lastly, the Marine Style decoration would have been added. Using dark slip on the surface of the clay, the Minoan painter of this vessel filled the center with a charming octopus, swimming diagonally, with tentacles extended out to the full perimeter of the flask and wide eyes that stare out at the viewer with an almost cartoon-like friendliness. Around this creature’s limbs we find sea urchins, coral, and triton shells; no empty space is left unfilled, lending a sense of writhing energy to the overall composition.
Marine-Style pottery, of which this vessel is a prime example, is regarded as the pinnacle of Minoan palatial pottery production, specifically of the period (around 1400 B.C.E.). Those who believe “hands” (that is, specific artists) can be identified in the painting of Bronze Age pottery have identified this vessel as the work of the Marine Style Master, who worked at the site of Palaikastro. The era of Marine Style pottery coincided with a period during which the Minoans’ trade networks spanned widely across the Mediterranean, from Crete to Cyprus, the , mainland Greece, and Egypt. Some have connected this seafaring skill to the popularity of Marine Style pottery. The style was imitated by potters on the Greek mainland as well as the islands of Melos, and Aegina, but none could match the charm and grace of the Minoan inventors of the style.
Essay by Dr. Senta German
Want to join the conversation?
- What does the marine theme in Minoan pottery say specifically about their worldview? Did it have anything to do with Poseidon? What type of oil would have been in this?(3 votes)
- How do scholars know it was "meant to hold a valuable liquid?" Because of the decoration?(3 votes)
- The decor of the object leads to a conclusion that it was the possession of a person of means, not of a peasant or slave. From there it''s not a big leap to imagine that a valuable cup held valuable liquid. That being said, though, it could have been used for the cat's water.(3 votes)
- Are you sure this was wheel-made? The face of the octopus has a circular indent probably indicating it could have been made by a mold and joined together since its made extremely thin for a wheel-made vase.(1 vote)
- Look at the Kamares Ware. It's super thin pottery as well- someone knew their job on the potter's wheel :)(4 votes)