Mycenaean Art (Helladic Art)
Art of Early Mainland Greece
Mycenae, Greece 1600-1200 BCE
Tiryns 1600-1200 BCE
Plan of the Palace
1400 BCE - 1200 BCE
1400 BCE - 1200 BCE
|Form: The city is laid out in an enclosed defensible districts or sections. Some of the rooms were decorated with fresco murals and we believe that the largest rooms were audience halls of the kings referred to as the megaron (mega- big). In fact everything about Tiryns is "mega." The gigantic blocks of stone and tremendous wall of Tiryns are enormous. Iconography: We do not know how the people of Tiryns and Mycenae viewed their own cities since there is know written account. We do know that these cities were iconic for the Greeks and Romans who saw them centuries later. The massive walls and masonry blocks of Tiryns were gigantic. They are so massive that Greeks and historians imagined that giants moved and built the blocks. The giants elected by the Greek imagination were the one eyed titans known as the Cyclopes. That is why the term Cyclopean masonry is used to describe it. In some ways, these citadels, for the Greeks of the fifth through first centuries, are roughly the equivalent of Teotihuacan in America for the Aztecs or the Anasazi cities for the Navajo.|
Context: The Citadel of Tiryns is located on the mainland of Greece off from the cost of Mediterranean Sea, it is 10 miles away from Mycenae. Unlike Knossos, Tiryns was built mainly to be defensive, since it did not suffer from the ravages of earthquakes like Knossos it did not have phases and grow in the organic manner as Knossos did; it was planned from the beginning. There are heavy walls surrounding Tiryns and other Mycenaean palaces. The entranceway to Tiryns is also designed to be defensive. In order for the attackers to approach the palace they have to pass a series of long narrow ramps that forces the soldiers to turn to right to expose their unshielded sides.
Not much is known as to why Tiryns or Mycenae died, however, it is known that they were under constant attack and that Tiryns and Mycenae both ended, probably by fire, in 1200 BCE.
The Greeks of later periods were quite taken with the ruins at Tiryns and even then it was a place of legend and fascination. Hercules was said to have been born in Tiryns and second century CE Greek historian Pausanias even wrote a tour book about its gigantic towers and masonry.
Mycenaean or Helladic Period/Civilization
|Form: By the shape we know that this vessel was a mixing bowl for wine and water that the Greeks called a krater. Created on a wheel the vase is decorated with fired engobe. Engobe is a glaze made of thinned down clay sometimes called slip which has additives such as iron oxides which turn colors when fired. A single register of warriors complete with armor marching from left to right. To the far left is a female figure waving at the figures as they move away. As in the Minoan art, no attempt at pictorial depth is apparent. The figures seem to be rendered in an attempt at naturalism and whatever stylizations occur they do not seem wholly intentional. The figures are in a modified composite view for this reason as well.|
Iconography: The iconography of the vessel seems to fall in step with the overall plan of Tiryns. The theme of the vessel is martial. These are men going off to battle and the female to the far left is in support of their patriotic venture. Therefore the iconography describes both male and female roles within the context of a militaristic society.
Context: Since both Mycenae and Tiryns were built for defense and the fact that a household item, unlike the pottery from Knossos, contains such a martial theme indicates that the emphasis of the cultures at Tiryns and Mycenae were devoted to defense. The positioning of the shield and spear in the arms of the individuals is also a clue as to how the walls and entranceway into the citadels was defensible. Since an intruder would have to enter the main gateway (propylon) by turning right, the spear hand of the soldier would be blocked by the wall and the shield on the left would be rendered ineffective as the soldier turned. A soldier inside the propylon would have the benefit of having no such obstructions.
|Citadel c1500 BCE Mycenae, Greece Mycenaean|
Form: The walls of Mycenae are 15 feet thick and probably stood to a height of 50 to 60 feet tall. The citadel is built on a very defensible hill. The square shapes in the center are the remains of the foundations of the megarons. The round enclosed shapes at the lower left hand portion were the burial sites. Several grave shafts are located there.Iconography: Iconography: We do not know how the people of Tiryns and Mycenae viewed their own cities since there is know written account. We do know that these cities were iconic for the Greeks and Romans who saw them centuries later. The massive walls and masonry blocks of Tiryns were gigantic. They are so massive that Greeks and historians imagined that giants moved and built the blocks. The giants elected by the Greek imagination were the one eyed titans known as the Cyclopes. That is why the term Cyclopean masonry is used to describe it. In some ways, these citadels, for the Greeks of the fifth through first centuries, are roughly the equivalent of Teotihuacan in America for the Aztecs or the Anasazi cities for the Navajo.
Context: Given the location, on a defensible hilltop, and its location on the mainland many historians have used this information in conjunction with their knowledge of the Greek epic poem of the Iliad to identify this structure as the city of Mycenae. The home of the legendary Atreus family. (see "The Trojan War" in Stokstad)
One early archeologist who used these texts as his guidebook was Heinrich Schliemann. Schliemann, a millionaire and amateur archeologist had memorized both the Iliad and the Odyssey, knew several languages. After making his fortune, the middle aged Schliemann went to Greece and married 16 year old Sophia Schliemann who later on became one of the first and most talented female archeologists of their day. Their excavations of Mycenae and other sites were based on the epic poems of Homer. Their excavation and archeological style was groundbreaking but at times destructive in a similar manner to Sir Arthur Evans. In some ways they were both glorified treasure hunters and dug up things wherever he felt the best. They were not very careful, but later they improved their skills. At times Schliemann like Sir Arthur Evans made up titles and dates according to each own's theories rather than fact. (See Stokstad "Pioneers of Aegean Archaeology" and MencherLiaisons 24-46 (Irving Stone: The Greek Treasure Mycenae!)).
Iliad: Trojan Wars- Achilles, Odysseus, Telemachus, Paris, Helen. Troy vs. Sparta
Odyssey: Telemachus searching for Odysseus because he hasn't returned home from the war, Odysseus’ adventure trying to get back home. Iliad and Odyssey were Schliemann's basis for how and where to excavate, archeology wasn't yet systematized, very sporadic
III. Development and Expansion of Mycenaeans -- 1600 B.C
A. Greater prosperity and trade -- built roads and fortresses
- Influenced by Minoans — prompted long scholarly debate [J. McInerney]
- Evans argued that the Minoans colonized the mainland and Mycenae was off-shoot of Crete
- Others disagreed — argued that Mycenaeans had an indigenous Greek culture influenced by Cretan style through trade and eventual conquest of Crete
- Debate resolved with decipherment of Linear B by Michael Ventris in 1954
- Linear B was Greek
- Around 1450 Minoan palaces destroyed — only Knossos rebuilt — flourished another seventy-five years
- Records of Knossos during last seventy-five years recorded in Linear B — not a script used previously in Crete (had used Linear A)
- Since Linear B is Greek — Greek speakers occupied Knossos in its last phase
- Thus, mainland Mycenaeans invaded and occupied Knossos and stayed for three generations, long enough to learn the practice of a centralized palace economy
- Other data confirming theory that Mycenaeans overwhelmed Minoans
- At Miletus and on Rhodes, Minoan colonies founded by Cretans shortly after 1600 BC had come into the hands of the Mycenaeans by 1400 B.C.
- Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur — possibly a distant memory of conflict between the Greek mainland and Crete
- Key Differences between Minoans and Mycenaeans
- Mycenaeans definitely had a slave system
- Mycenaeans geared much more toward warfare
- Heavily fortified settlements
- Ostentatious tombs for Mycenaean kings — weapons in burials monumental sculpture — Lion Gate
Mycenaean or Helladic Period/Civilization
|Form: The mask is a stylized portrait of a mature male. The arching eyebrows and straight nose are reminiscent of some of the objects found at Tell Asmar and Knossos. The mask is made of a thinly beaten sheet of gold which was hammered from the backside. This technique, known as repousse, is different from the other metal working processes, such as the cire perduemethod (lost wax) and the piece mold methods of the Chinese cultures.Iconography: The masks were most likely meant as royal portraits of the diseased they covered. The beard and handlebar mustache (which Stokstad points out could have been faked) are emblems of maturity and wisdom.|
Context: Originally this mask would have been molded to form around the head of the corpse serving as a replacement or protection for the deceased features. This mask and others like it were found in the unlooted shaft graves inside grave circle A. The title or attribution that this is the mask of the legendary king from the "Iliad" Agamemnon is false. Schliemann chose to name it this based on his conjecture and desire that he link this site and these graves to Homer's works. (see Stokstad "The Object Speaks" "The Mask of Agamemnon.")
|Treasury of Atreus|
1300 BCE - 1250 BCE
dome 43' tall 47' diameter
Mycenaean or Helladic Period/Civilization
|Form: The beehive style tomb was entered into through a 20 foot wide and 120 foot long dromos (passageway) constructed of ashlars that was open to the sky. The entrance to the dromos terminated in another 34 high entrance facade that contained an 18 foot tall door faced with marble and bronze. The panel above the lintel, empty in this photograph, would have been ornamented with a similar style limestone or marble panel to the one above the lintel at the "Lion's Gate." Inside the tomb, at 43 feet high, this dome or tholos (tholoi plural) was the largest dome of its time. The interior of the igloo style dome was constructed from a series of corbeled ashlars that terminated at the top in a pointed cone like shape. These tombs were originally covered by large mounds of earth.Iconography: The use of the technology itself is rather iconic of the advanced quality of the engineering and of the wealth of the individual who was buried inside. This "conspicuous consumption" would have been symbolic of the power of the individual.|
Context: Over 100 tombs like this have been found in the area of Tiryns and Mycenae. However, these tombs, almost all which have been looted, were not the tombs in which Schliemann and others found their treasures. The earlier shaft graves are the sources for the repousse masks.
Again, as in the case with the mask, this tomb was misnamed the "Treasury of the Atreus" because archaeologists wanted to make the claim that this site was linked to the places and names in the "Iliad."
Vapheio Cup (also spelled Vaphio)
found at Vapheio near Sparta, Greece
Mycenaean possibly Minoan
Form: This repousse cup features a double walled construction. It was made out of two sheets of thin gold. The outer sheet was molded and the details formed (some by engraving). Then this ornamented sheet was attached to a thin sheet of gold so that the interior of the cup was smooth. These joined pieces were then bolted to or riveted to a handle.
The details of the ornamentation show a surprisingly illusionistic and naturalistic scene of a youthful, thin waisted, broad shouldered young man wrestling with a bull snared with a rope. In this scene there is some space created by the figures overlapping the scenery behind them. The naturalism and stylization of the figures recall many of the frescos at Knossos.
Iconography: The scene itself is a genre scene similar to those found in murals at Knossos. The figures appears to be in ideal physical condition and the scene could represent the ideal of youthful strength and prowess as he heroically triumphs over a bull. The beautiful landscape and the fine animals are possibly reminders or symbols of the property one who is wealthy and strong may acquire.
The bull, as in the story of the Minotaur, Mesopotamian art and literature, cave painting and even in Chattel Huyuk represents a powerful, almost divine creature full of male potent energy. If one conquers such a creature it may demonstrate a mastery over these qualities.
Context: Perhaps the most interesting thing about this work is its context. Although the work was found in a tomb on the Greek mainland, many scholars believe that this work is stylistically and iconographically linked to Minoan art. Several textbooks and scholars suggest that this work was manufactured somewhere in the Cyclades or on Crete and then exported or that a traveler who visited this region brought it back as one of his or her treasures.
This is a rolled out or flattened view of the entire cup.
|bas-re.lief n (low relief) [F, fr. bas low + relief raised work] (1667): sculptural relief in which the projection from the surrounding surface is slight and no part of the modeled form is undercut; also: sculpture executed in bas-relief Sculpture in the round: Is a piece that is meant to be viewed from all angles.|
repousse: To make an image or relief by taking thinly beaten sheet of gold and hammering a design from the backside.
re.pous.se adj [F, lit., pushed back] (1858) 1: shaped or ornamented with patterns in relief made by hammering or pressing on the reverse side--used esp. of metal 2: formed in relief ²repousse n (1858) 1: repousse work 2: repousse decoration
engobe is a glaze made of thinned down clay sometimes called slip which has additives such as iron oxides which turn colors when fired.
haute relief (high relief) A high relief carving is a carving in which the figures are "relieved" or pushed out from the surface to such an extent that they almost appear to not be part of the stone they were carved from. The sculptures, although attached to the background, stand out from the back ground.
For all the videos in order with a textbook and study guides please visit: