ca. 3000-2000 BC
ca. 2000-1400 BC
ca. 1400-1200 BC
|small-scale||Cycladic idols||figurines, vessels, seals, goldwork||continuation of Minoan forms, phi/psi/tau figurines|
The Aegean age (ca. 3000-1200 BC) featured three major cultures: Cycladic, Minoan, and Mycenaean. The Minoan and Mycenaean cultures (which were much larger than the Cycladic culture) are responsible for most Aegean artistic production. The chief exception lies in the Pre-Palace age (ca. 3000-2000 BC), during which the Cycladians were the most accomplished sculptors of the Aegean.
All Aegean cultures worked mainly in small sculpture (e.g. figurines, vessels). Large-scale sculpture (e.g. statues, architectural sculpture) only became common in Europe under the ancient Greeks, who drew inspiration from the great sculpted works of Egypt and Mesopotamia.H114-15
The foremost Aegean sculptures of the Pre-Palace age are the marble Cycladic idols: stylized figures (see Realism vs. Stylization) whose faces are blank except for narrow triangular noses. Thousands of these sculptures have been discovered throughout the Cycladic Islands, often in graves. Most are individuals in a crossed-arm position, though some are engaged in activity, and some are group sculptures. The smooth contours and simple geometry of these figures are uncannily reminiscent of modern art.
Minoan art gradually took form throughout the Pre-Palace age, then flourished during the Palace age. The Minoans sculpted in clay, bronze, ivory, and stone. They produced many figurines, both human and animal; bulls and bull-jumpers were particular favourites.
The largest surviving works of Minoan sculpture are a number of vessels, some carved in relief, others sculpted into figures (often a bull's head). At the small end of the scale, the Minoans are renowned for their delicately engraved stone seals, as well as fine goldwork.1,3
In the world of visual art, the term major arts is often used to denote large-scale architecture, painting, and sculpture; all other forms of visual art (including metalwork) are known as minor arts. Essential Humanities rarely discusses the minor arts directly, as they have generally followed the aesthetic lead of the major arts. In some periods, however, one (or more) of the major arts is absent.
In the history of Western art, large-scale sculpture is only missing from two periods: the Aegean age and the early medieval period. In both cases, this causes metalwork to become unusually prominent.
Most innovation in Aegean art was achieved by the Minoans. The Mycenaeans, known more as cultural adopters than innovators, embraced Minoan culture as the foundation of their own. Consequently, the style and forms of Mycenaean sculpture are largely similar to those of the Minoans.
As noted earlier, monumental sculpture was rare among the Aegean cultures. The most famous surviving example is the Lion Gate, a pair of carved lions that crown one of the entrances to Mycenae, the greatest city of the Mycenaean civilization.
The most distinctive Mycenaean sculptures are likely the phi, psi, and tau figurines. Each figurine is named for its pose. Thus, the pose of the phi figurine resembles the Greek letter Φ; the psi figurine, Ψ; and the tau figurine, Τ.
2 - "Cycladic culture", Encarta 2004.
3 - "Aegean civilization", Encarta 2004.