Ancient European art  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
ancient art

Written histories of Western art often begin with the art of the Ancient Middle East, Ancient Egypt and the Ancient Aegean civilisations, dating from the 3rd millennium BC. Parallel with these significant cultures, art of one form or another existed all over Europe, wherever there were people, leaving signs such as carvings, decorated artifacts and huge standing stones. However a consistent pattern of artistic development within Europe becomes clear only with the art of Ancient Greece, adopted and transformed by Rome and carried; with the Empire, across much of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.



The Minoan Civilization

The greatest civilization of the Bronze Age was that of the Minoans, a mercantilist people who built a trading empire from their homeland of Crete and from other Aegean islands. Minoan civilization was known for its beautiful ceramics, but also for its frescos, landscapes, and stone carvings. In the early Minoan period ceramics were characterized by linear patterns of spirals, triangles, curved lines, crosses, fishbone motives and such. In the middle Minoan period naturalistic designs such fish, squids, birds and lilies were common. In the late Minoan period flowers and animals were still the most characteristic, but variability had increased. The 'palace style' of the region around Knossos is characterized by strong geometric simplification of naturalistic shapes and monochromatic painting. The Palace at Knossos was decorated with frescoes showing aspects of everyday life, including court ritual and entertainment such as bull-leaping and boxing. The Minoans were also skilled goldsmiths, creating beautiful pendants and masks in the precious metal.

The Mycenaen Civilization

Mycenaen art is close to the Minoan and includes many splendid finds from the royal graves, most famously the Mask of Agamemnon, a gold funeral mask. As may be seen from this item, the Mycenaens specialized in gold-working. Their artworks are known for a plethora of decorative motives employed. At some point in their cultural history, the Myceneans adopted the Minoan goddesses and associated these goddesses with their sky-god; scholars believe that the Greek pantheon of deities does not reflect Mycenean religion except for the goddesses and Zeus. These goddesses, however, are Minoan in origin.

Greek art

Ancient Greek art includes much pottery, sculpture as well as architecture. Greek sculpture is known for the contrapposto standing of the figures. The art of Ancient Greece is usually divided stylistically into three periods: the Archaic, the Classical and the Hellenistic. The history of Ancient Greek pottery is divided stylistically into periods: the Protogeometric, the Geometric, the Late Geometric or Archaic, the Black Figure and the Red Figure. Ancient Greek art has survived most successfully in the forms of sculpture and architecture, as well as in such minor arts as coin design, pottery and gem engraving.

The most prestigious form of Ancient Greek painting was panel painting, now known only from literary descriptions; they perished rapidly after the 4th century AD, when they were no longer actively protected. Today not much survives of Greek painting, except for late mummy paintings and a few paintings on the walls of tombs, mostly in Macedonia and Italy. Painting on pottery, of which a great deal survives, gives some sense of the aesthetics of Greek painting. The techniques involved, however, were very different from those used in large-format painting. It was mainly in black and gold and was painted using different paints than the ones used on walls or wood, because it was a different surface.


It is commonly said that Roman art was derivative from Greek and Etruscan art. Indeed, the villas of the wealthy Romans unearthed in Pompeii and Herculaneum show a strong predilection for all things Greek. Many of the most significant Greek artworks survive by virtue of their Roman interpretation and imitation. Roman artists sought to commemorate great events in the life of their state and to glorify their emperors as well as record the inner life of people, and express ideas of beauty and nobility. Their busts, and especially the images of individuals on gravestones, are very expressive and life-like, finished with skill and panache.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ancient European art" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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