What is the difference between Minoan and Mycenaean art?
The Minoan civilization existed during 3,000–1,400 BCE, before the Mycenaean Civilization (1,600–1,100 BCE), and in many ways influenced the Mycenaean arts. While both civilizations created pottery, metal objects, and paintings on the walls of their buildings, Minoan artists developed more elegant frescoes in their palaces, incorporating the language known as Linear A into these works. Mycenaean artists developed the art of enameling and utilized the language known as Linear B in their artwork.
The Minoan people excelled at frescos (pigments mixed together with water and painted on the wall) and led Greek culture in pottery design. As Minoan culture expanded and attention turned to public buildings and palaces, Minoan artists began designing large frescos for the walls of these buildings, depicting themes of nature. Incorporated into this artwork was the writing known as Linear A.
Mycenaean art, by contrast, often reflected warrior-like tendencies; their paintings depicted hunting scenes and images of war. The Mycenaean people also used a language in their artwork, but it was a new language known as Linear B. Where Minoan culture developed the decoration of pottery, Mycenaean artists became experts in enameling. The process they established melts glass over metal to create a jewel-like texture.
The best way to find the difference in styles from these two cultures is to compare and contrast actual images. Look at these two examples of pottery. The left is from the Myceneaen culture, while the right is from the Minoan culture. Ask yourself, are there differences in theme, line, medium, or color? What techniques do you think were used?
As Mycenaean art was heavily influenced by Minoan art, the differences are fairly subtle. The main difference is due to the Minoans being primarily a naval power and the Mycenaeans a land power. Thus while cities on the mainland were heavily fortified against land attacks, and had monumental defensive walls, the Minoans relied on their ships for defense.
Both societies used tholos or beehive tombs and chamber tombs for burial of the dead, often accompanied by various forms of grave goods, intended to accompany the deceased into the afterlife. Gold funeral masks seem unique to Mycenaean society.
Two uniquely Minoan elements in art are what are known as "horns of consecration" (stylized bull horns) and pictures of bull-jumping. Both of these have some form of religious significance, with the first being ubiquitous in Knossos and other palaces.
Women play a more prominent role in art works found on Crete and Thera than they do in mainland art, with both sculptures and frescoes of female figures being common.
The most significant difference between Minoan and Mycenaean art reflects the cultural difference of valuing peace over warfare. For example, while Minoan weaponry was primarily ceremonial and not designed for defense, the Mycenaeans boasted an array of weaponry clearly meant to inflict harm and defend against attack.
Architecturally speaking, Mycenaean structures consisted of high walls with ready barricades and built-in defense mechanisms, while Minoan structures were for the most part open, consisting of numerous windows and doors leading to gardens and allowing for easy transportation between buildings.
In terms of visual art, the subject matter of Mycenaean work was often combative, vividly depicting scenes of heroism on the field of battle and corresponding carnage, while the Minoans created peaceful scenes featuring animal and marine life content alongside the civilization of man.