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Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

[Evans, Sir Arthur. The Palace of Minos. A Comparative Account of the Successive Stages of the Early Cretan Civilization as Illustrated by the Discoveries. Vol. II: Part II. Town-Houses in Knossos of the New Era and Restored West Palace Section, with its State Approach. New York: Biblo and Tannen:. 1964.]

Knossos

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NOTE: The notations for this document have not yet been. transcribed.

House of Frescoes
The fragments from the 'House of the Frescoes', forming, as they do, a related series from a single small dwelling, bear a more or less uniform character, reflecting the individual taste of the owner in decorating his walls. Their scope, for this reason, is limited, and many contemporary branches of painter plaster decoration and various classes of subjects were not included in his selection. There are no reliefs, no large designs, apparently, such as would have covered the whole wall, and religious themes are avoided, nor are there even traces of the bull-grappling or other feats so dear to the Minoan artists. Scenes of the toilette are also wanting, and the choice of borders is itself confined to plain horizontal bands and lines in various colors.

The subject chosen for illustration may best be described as wild nature. Man is excluded, but animal forms such as monkeys and blue birds appear here and there, amidst a wilderness of grotesque rocks overgrown [p. 446] with flowers and creepers. An obvious parallelism can be observed, indeed, with the contemporary wall paintings from the Little Palace at Hagia Triada, in which a cat is seen stalking a pheasant in a similar landscape, and with what appears to have been a similar design from the Palace at Knossos, of which we have only a fragmentary record.^

Unfortunately, at Hagia Triada the surface of the wall-paintings had been much injured by fire, and the original bright colouring was much obscured in consequence. In the 'House of Frescoes', on the other hand, it has been preserved in all its pristine brilliance. The number of flowering plants here depicted is also much greater, and it is not too much to say that we have before us the remains of the most vivid compositions that have have come down to us from Minoan days. [p. 447]


Panels with Blue Monkeys
On parts of two panels the foreparts of monkeys of a prevailing blue colour appear on a deep Venetian red ground, and it has been possible to restore a section of one of these panels in the Coloured Plate X. Most of the head of the monkey, together with a raised forepar, is here visible, and the head of another from a similar panel is reproduced in Fig. 262. The animal is seen in a typical wild setting, where glorified papyrus sprays of many colours are mixed with native crocus tufts and dwarf iris, while the 'sacral ivy', to be described below, climbs up between the brilliantly veined and variegated crags.

On another panel of a paler complexion, showing an ochreous white field, the outline of the whole animal--here, of a lighter blue than the other--is to a great extent preserved [Fig. 264]. He is seen prying among the papyrus stalks, which he divides with his paws, evidently on the hunt for something eatable, perhaps a waterfowl's egg. The papyrus here has not the floral character that it presents in the other panel. [p. 447]

There can be no doubt that the animal here characterized is the usual long-tailed monkey of Egyptian wall-paintings, though the greenish hair-colour of these has been translated into blue by the Minoan artist. The species, indeed, may be recognized as the West African 'green monkey' [Ceropithecus callitrichus] with it s fillet-like white band across the lower part of he forehead. In ancient Egypt itself it was originally an exotic animal, derived from the Soudan, but the monkeys of this species were familiar there as pets, being seen, for instance, under chairs, nibbling onions and frequently appearing as women's playthings, though also on men's tombs. Monkeys, as shown above,^ already appear on Early Minoan seals and were not improbably known as pets in the Knossian Palace, but they could not have been so familiar in Crete, and the Egyptian designs, as might have been expected, come nearer to Nature both in hue and in details.

The panel reproduced in Fig. 264 presents, moreover, a curious feature. The space containing the animal is framed by a green and brown band of imitative rock-work that finds an interesting parallel in the similar encircling bands with figures of animals within, exemplified by some Egyptian wall-paintings.

In the Tomb of Kenamón at Thebes, described by Mr. N. de Garis Davies, are remains of a hunting scene, in which figures of animals, such as a calf licking its hind foot, a hare beneath a bush, and part of a wild ass apparently browsing on a leafy branch of which a spray appears, are seen in separate compartments surrounded by desert belts of sand and shingle [see Fig. 263, a, b].^

The analogies here with the Cretan work are so patent that an indebtedness on one side or the other must be admitted. It is true that these Egyptian designs are later in date than those of the 'House of the Frescoes' since they belong to the time of Amenhotep II, c. 1449-1423, whereas the Knossian wall-paintings go back ex hypothesis to a date not later than the middle of the sixteenth century B.C. On the other hand, the sandy desert belts depicted in the Theban tomb, and to which we see so close a parallel on our monkey panel [Fig. 264], clearly belong to Egypt. [p. 449]

On which side was the indebtedness? That the animal figures of the Theban tomb were executed by a specially skillful Egyptian artist is most clearly shown by the remains of a design depicting an ibex brought to bay by a hound, and 'posed with tragic dignity, as if on its native crags'. On the other hand, not only does this method of thus isolating in encircling bands individual animals seem to be without a parallel in Egyptian Art,^ but the background shows a yellow tone, in place of the customary violet, an exceptional circumstance, which Mr. Davies is led to account for by the use of a vivid yellow clay such as was affected by early Italian artists.^ 'It [p. 449] might hint', he adds, 'that this da Vinci of Thebes came from a Northern School.' There was then only one 'Northern School' - that of Minoan Crete and its dependencies.

The Egyptian reaction on a scene like the present, showing a monkey in a papyrus thicket, must in any case be admitted. The Nilotic elements are there, but the adaptation is still Minoan. On some goldsmith's work that was aso found in the Kenamón Tomb, monkeys of the usual Egyptian kind are seen in a more appropriate association climbing about Dôm palms, and in one case engaged in the congenial occupation of picking the fruit. They are certainly less in place in a papyrus thicket, and amongst reeds taken from a Cretan watercourse.

Indigenous elements, indeed, are introduced into this design--witness the reeds and a clump of blue crocuses--but so different is the style as a whole from the remains of the other panels, showing monkeys and birds against a background of rocks and flowers, that it seems possible that it could be regarded as the work of a somewhat later restoration. In any case, however, as the latest ceramic elements of the house demonstrate, it cannot be later than L. M. Ia. Still, compared with the other panels, it gives the impression of a certain intensification of New Empire Egyptian influences.

The section of the panel, reconstituted in the Coloured Plate X, showing the forepart of another 'blue' monkey and the rest of the design of rocks and flowers against a deep Venetian red background, has such a brilliant decorative effect as wild kill the other picture if placed beside it. The papyrus itself shows much more vividly coloured booms, and the connections supplied by a series of fragments include a wealth of brightly veined and variegated rock-work.


Rock Landscapes
The well-defined character of the striations and cores of the grotesquely outlined rock-work in this and other compositions, and of the flowering plants that spring from it, supplies a much more material setting than the little more than symbolic background of the contemporary 'Partridge Frieze', illustrated above,^ though certain plant forms, such as the myrtle sprays that appear in the later case, are identical in style. The egg-like pebbles of the frieze--derived, we may suppose, from cut conglomerate--with their cross striations, are also paralleled by similar examples on fragments from the present deposit. These banded pebbles are a very persistent feature in Minoan Art, which [p. 450] was taken over at Mycenae^ and elsewhere in Mainland Greece. Throughout we see the same decorative device--originating, it may be supposed, in a very ancient acquaintance with intarsia work--of depicting the face of the stone as if cut in section, which is also so characteristic of Minoan painted borders. Many of the rocks here present the appearance of brilliantly veined agate or of artificially coloured onyx, sliced and polished.

. . . . Though not so abundant as those of the terrestrial class, remains of rockwork designs associated with marine forms, recalling the relief work of the latter half of the Middle Minoan Age, also occurred in the fresco heap. These [p. 453] will find illustration below, where they are shown to supply an interesting link with the 'marine style' in ceramic decoration which characterizes the later phase of L. M. I. [p. 454]


Panel with Blue Bird [Roller]
The composition reconstructed in the coloured Plate XI may be regarded as well ascertained in its main features, though there are here and there some small lacunas.^ The height of the panel, as here shown, is 60 centimeters or about two feet, but the lily sprays which seem to belong to it in the right corner would indicate some additional extension below. The upper margin is also incomplete, and the overarching rock-work probably continued above the creamy white field.

The central feature here is a blue bird, with red spots on its breast, rising from behind a rock as if in the act of spreading its wings. The head of the bird is here restored from another perfect example, belonging to a bird on a section of the same composition with a red ground. The bird itself seems to be a Roller [Coracias garrulus], common in the Mediterranean regions and known in Crete, though not now apparently common there at the present day.^ The greenish blue colour of the head, neck, breast, and wing borders and the somewhat hooked beak are sufficiently reproduced, but the speckling of the breast does not seem to be warranted. This bird has received its name from the curious somersault and antics performed by it in the breeding season.

From the rocks spring wild peas or vetches--the pods shown simultaneously with spiky flowers--clumps of what seem to be dwarf Cretan irises, blue fringed with orange, and--for variety's sake--rose edged with deep purplish green. To the left, for the first time in Ancient Art, appears a wild rose bush, partly against a deep red and partly against a white background, and other coiling sprays of the same plant hang down from a rock-work arch above. The flowers are of a golden rose colour with orange centres dotted with deep red. The artist has given the flowers six petals instead of five, and has reduced the leaves to groups of three, like those of a strawberry [see, too, Fig. 266, A I, A 2]. [p. 454]

There can be little doubt that the white liliaceous flower [Fig. 268] springing up in the right-hand corner, below, is the Pancratium lily, which grows in Crete, as in many Mediterranean countries, on the sandy sea-shore. The plant, as literally drawn by Sibthorp, is shown in Fig. 267, and it clearly appears from the simplified profile view [Fig. 269] that two-horned prominences of its inner corolla have, in the Minoan version, suggested stamens with forked terminations, the true anthers being left in the air. This may give a good idea of the liberties taken with natural forms in these decorative pieces.

It must none the less be allowed that the details of such a wall-painting as that shown in the Coloured Plate XI, with the Minoan 'Blue bird' and the many-hued rock and flowering plants, have a beauty of their own, in spite of their stylized character. The composition as a whole--the reserve afforded by the white field, the balance of tone and colouring, and the contrast of the rugged outlines of the landscape with the flowing [p. 456] lines of the trailing plants--breathes a true artistic spirit.

A section of a simply designed frieze with shoots of young myrtle, clearly characterized by their rosy stems, rising from the ground is partly restored in Fig. 270. These have a special interest from the fact that they supply a close parallel both in form and colouring to similar sprays seen on the 'Partridge Frieze',^ the decorative details of which are in many respects so divergent from those of the present group.

A more mechanical style of wall decoration, suggestive, indeed, of a modern wall-paper, is represented by the [p. 457] exceptionally large fragment^ illustrated in Fig. 271. Here, beneath a black, blue, and white border, clumps of rose-coloured crocuses are, in heraldic parlance, semé on an orange field. This is bordered below by a waving band, alternately black, blue, and white, beneath which is a white field, whereon, as we learn from other fragments, blue-coloured crocuses are arranged in the same formal way. A careful comparison of the different clumps shows such an amount of conformity in the arrangement of the leaves and flowers as to lead to the conclusion that the repetition of the designs was aided in some artificial manner. There are indications that the white band was bordered in turn [p. 458] below by a conventional outline of rocky ground of a deep red colour, showing tufts of yellow crocuses. As nearly as it is possible to calculate, this fresco band, with a similar painted cornice below, would have been about a metre in height.

In the case of the other more naturalistic scenes with flowers and rockwork described above it is difficult to ascertain the exact width of the painted frieze. The width of the analogous composition at Hagia Triada, which seems to have been about 80 centimeters, may, however, serve as an approximate guide. [p. 459]


Position and Width of Fresco Friezes
The position of fresco friezes in the Minoan houses was naturally dependent on that of the beams that formed the continuation, on the one hand, of the lintel of the doorway and the upper line of the window frame, and on the other of the sill or lower line of the window casing. In the case of the Stepped Pavilion of the 'Caravanserai', where there were no windows but a system of painted pillars of the same height as the door posts the Partridge Frieze was set in the interval between the ceiling and beams that formed the imposts of the doors and surrounding pillars-at a height, that is, of about 2.5 metres--and was therefore somewhat 'skied'. But the marks of wooden beams, seen in several cases immediately above the upper borders of the present group of frescoes, as well as the evidence of a greater width, show that these were laced under the lintel line. If the measurements prevalent in the rooms here were approximately the same as that of the 'Caravanserai' pavilion, the upper border of the painted friezes would have been about 1.80 metres up, and we may suppose that a dado strip filled the interval of about a metre below. These fresco designs would therefore have been well 'on the line'. It seems probable that, as at Hagia Triada, the dado band below consisted of painted plaster at this epoch, often coloured black, rather than of gypsum slabs.

Of the frames themselves, which suggest copies in the flat of plaster cornices, there were a large number of fragments, though their exact breadth was generally indeterminate. They consisted of coloured bands and lines, black, blue, red, yellow, and white, often very numerous. In B of the Suppl. Pl. XX, where some typical examples are given, as many as nineteen lines and bands are traceable. [p. 460]


A Minoan Fountain
Perhaps the most remarked of all the fragment from the fresco heap are those reproduced in what seems to be their original relation in Fig. 272. Although the actual summit was not found, the object here depicted in the upper part of the field is clearly some kind of fountain or jet d'eau. The fragment below, with the same forked base and falling drops, seems, moreover, to be the base of another column of water drawn in a similar conventional manner, with a small section of undulating ground contour showing a wavy band, in this case, appearing beneath it.

The background here is white, the central column of water and falling drops on either side a deep blue, while the drops descending in front of the main jet are rendered visible by being painted in white. The spout of [p. 460] water itself is made, as already noted, to rise from a forked base. To the right is what seems to have been a rock boulder, and it looks as if the fountain had been introduced in connexion with natural scenery like that illustrated by other scenes of this group.

There are no geysers in Crete nor sulfurous ebullitions like those of Pallici in Sicily, and it is impossible therefore that these were copied from any natural fountains to be found in the Island. We have here to deal with artificial jets d'eau of a kind that might, indeed, have spouted from some Pompeian basin, but which, down to Hellenistic times at least, seem to have been quite unknown to classical antiquity. Such fountains were entirely foreign to Ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia.

Yet in Minoan Crete, where everything connected with the flow of water had been practically [p. 461] considered from the earliest times and abstruse hydrostatic problems empirically solved, the appearance of an artificial fountain should hardly excite surprise. Already, in the elaborate system of water-supply of the earliest Age of the Palace, advantage had been taken of the natural law by which water finds its own level, and water-pipes had been devised that anticipate the devices of modern engineering. At the beginning of the New Era, to which the 'House of the Frescoes' owed its construction, such a refinement of hydrostatic science, as the use of parabolic curves for water-channels, is repeatedly illustrated amogn the remains of the Palace.^ It has been noted with regard to the foot-washing basin of the Caravanserai that its constructor positively reveled in the use of pipes for supply--with subsidiary distribution, for overflow, as well as for evacuation and drainage.... [p. 462]

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[Evans, Sir Arthur. The Palace of Minos. A Comparative Account of the Successive Stages of the Early Cretan Civilization as Illustrated by the Discoveries. Vol. II: Part II. Town-Houses in Knossos of the New Era and Restored West Palace Section, with its State Approach. New York: Biblo and Tannen:. 1964.]




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