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What is the difference between Minoan and Mycenaean art?

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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...

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garenwrites | Student

The art of the Minoans and Mycenaeans (along with works from the Cyclades) make up the period of prehistoric Aegean art that preceded the ancient Greeks.

The Minoans (approximately 3500 BC - 1100 BC) were an island dwelling culture centered on Crete. They were largely a seafaring, mercantile society that enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. This is evoked in the immense palaces that characterize this period that were constructed more for beauty than for defense. Minoan palaces featured elaborate floor plans with long corridors, airy stairwells, spacious courtyards, sizable living areas, labyrinthine magazines, and large theaters. They were also decorated with vibrant frescoes characterized by lively figures engaging in Minoan culture including bull-leaping and sailing.

Nature was another common Minoan motif. The first known example of a pure landscape painting is the Spring Fresco from Akrotiri with its multicolored rock formations and whimsical depictions of flowers and birds. Life lived on an island also meant sea animals were a central motif, especially on pottery.

In contrast, the mainland culture of the Mycenaeans (approximately 1600 BC - 1100 BC) produced art and architecture that reflected a civilization often at war. Instead of elegant palaces they built hulking citadels composed of enormous stone blocks. Dubbed Cyclopean masonry by their predecessors, the ancient Greeks, who assumed no mere mortals could build with such monumental materials, Mycenaean architecture emphasized security and practicality above all. Fittingly, the decoration of Mycenaean architecture is less fanciful and more focused on making a heroic or fearsome impression as with the Lion Gate of Agamemnon's Mycenae and other Mycenaean fortresses and tombs.

This emphasis on battle and the glory of great kings and leaders left little room for the fancifulness and detail that was commonly found in Minoan art. Indeed, the pottery that survives from the time is more schematic, with less detail and a greater abstractness. This seemed to presage the "Dark Age" that would grip Greece after the fall of the Mycenaean civilization near the beginning of the 11th century BC.

kayte34 | Student

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. 


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