Notebook, 1993-

Walberg, Gisela. Tradition and Innovation. Essays in Minoan Art. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp Von Zabern. 1986.

III The Relation Between
Minoan Vase-Painting and
Seal Motifs - Notes -- Abbreviations

[The culture was divided by Sir Arthur Evans into three periods that include the whole of the Bronze Age; Early Minoan [c. 3000 B.C.-2200 B.C.], Middle Minoan [c. 2200 B.C.-1500 B.C.], and Late Minoan [c. 1500 B.C.-1000 B.C.][Harris, William H., and Judith S. Levey, eds. The New Columbia Encyclopedia. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1975.]

In the previous chapter, similarity was demonstrated between some representational Middle Minoan pottery motifs and seal motifs, and it was also shown that the pottery motifs played an important part in the development of Late Minoan and Mycenaean vase-painting. Can such similarity also be demonstrated between other motifs and, if so, is this similarity the result of influence from glyptics on ceramic decoration or vice versa? In order to distinguish the ceramic and the glyptic traditions from each other and so to answer these questions, we must compare not only representational, but also abstract motifs and try to trace similar motifs in both genres as far back as possible.

Petaloid loops, foliate bands and other leaf-like elements appear in many varieties and combinations in ceramic decoration and also play an important part in glyptics. The first pottery motifs of this type appear on EM III east Cretan white-on-dark fragments from the North Trench at Gournia and consist of spiral links with pointed ends and a thickened middle part, used alone without coils. Some of them are joined at the upper end and arranged to form a band, Fig. 50a [WPM 8 (iv)2-4]. Others are combined to form rosettes, Fig. 50b [p. 39] [WPM S (iv) S]. If we look at contemporary glyptics, we find similar rosettes on seals dated in EM III-MM 1A1 (cf. Fig. 51 and CMS II1, 382 b). The rosettes continue in glyptics into MM IIB, but their latest ceramic parallels belong to the Pre-Kamares phase [cf. CMS II5 137 and WM 10(i)9). These motifs consisting of leaves with pointed ends are closely related to motifs made up of petaloid loops with rounded ends, which also appear in EM III pottery and in EM III-MMIA seals [cf. Fig. 52a-b, CMS III 205 and WPM 12 (i) 1]. Isolated petaloid loops are found in EM III and provincial Middle Minoan pottery of phase 1 [see, for instance, WPM 12[i] 2-3], but are comparatively rare. They have no close [p. 40] contemporary parallels in the seals. Petaloid loops in glyptics usually dated in EM II-MM I A,2 but possibly later, are of a type with short transverse strokes or bars which does not become frequent in ceramic decoration before the Early Kamares phase in palatial pottery and phase 2 in provincial pottery [cf. CMS III 282 and WM 12 (i) 4]. In MMII seals, petaloid loops are often combined to form whirling motifs, and this is also the case in Classical Kamares pottery. A Dreipass-variety on a MMII seal [CMS IX 31] corresponds closely to some contemporary vase-motifs [cf. Fig. 53a-b] and has the same arrangement of loops around a triangular centre. Multiple loops of a more plant-like character appear in MMII seals and have some ceramic parallels in palatial Classical Kamares pottery. Fig. 54a, a seal [p. 41] motif [CMS IV 127a] from the seal-cutter's workshop at Malia3 corresponds rather closely to Fig. 54b, a vase motif on a well-known vase from Knossos [WM 12 (ii) 1] even though it has only three petaloid loops instead of four as in the ceramic variety. Both motifs end in a small spiral coil.

Foliate bands which are formed by a row of petaloid loops joined to a vertical or horizontal band first appear in EM III pottery from Eastern Crete. In palatial pottery, they are first found in the Early Kamares phase, and in the next, Classical Kamares phase, they become very popular. Some of them are Abstract, but some have a decidedly floral character, which becomes more obvious in the Post-Kamares phase, Fig. 55 [see also WM 25 (iv) 3-13], and these floral variety form an important link to Late Minoan and Mycenaean foliate bands and grass or reed motifs [Fig. 8]. Similar foliate band varieties or "branches" are found on MM II seals as, for instance, on Fig. 56 [CMS II5 310] from the Phaistros sealing deposit, where the motif is used to form a framing branch around a bird motif.

Chequer motifs are, of course, frequent in Minoan pottery from EM III onwards. Motifs in light-on-dark on the yellow clay ground in the so-called Scottish style are found in pottery from East-Central Crete of phase 3, Fig. 57 a [WPM 31 (ii) 11], and there is one variety [p. 42] from Phaistos [WM 32 (iv) 2] belonging to the Classical Kamares phase. These pottery motifs are especially reminiscent of some seal motifs which have been dated in MM II, Fig. 57b [Knossos V c and Knossos L 8].

Cross-hatching is comparatively rare in Middle Minoan pottery from the palaces as well as from provincial sites. There are, however, some examples in Early and Classical Kamares pottery and also in provincial pottery of EM III and phases 2-3 [see WM 32 (iv) 6-9 and WPM 31 (ii) 3-9. In glyptics, cross-hatching is a very common type of decoration. It is, according to Yule, found on over 130 early Cretan seals, dating from Em II to MM III.4 The majority of these seals are made of ivory, and the popularity of the cross-hatching is probably due to the fact that horizontal, vertical and oblique lines are easily produced in this comparatively soft material. Neither the ceramic cross-hatching nor the glyptic decoration of the same kind is, of course, specific enough to permit any comparisons between varieties from different phases, and it is impossible to say if there is an influence in one direction or the other.

Radiating motifs, rosettes and stars are frequent in palatial and provincial Middle Minoan pottery decoration and also in early Minoan seals. The first radiating ceramic motifs are found as early as in EM II, on two vases from Myrtos.5 There is also a radiating motif on one of the fragments from the North Trench at Gournia, Fig. 58 [WPM 10 (i) 1]. In glyptics, radiating motifs may even go back to Em I.6 But it is not before MM IB-II and the Early Kamares phase [p. 43] in palatial pottery and phase 2 in provincial pottery, that there is any correspondence between individual motifs. A large group of MM II seal motifs illustrated by Yule in Early Cretan Seals [mot. 26:9-37] have the same radiating elements ending in V-shaped elements as some Classical Kamares vase motifs, Fig. 59a-b [WM 10 (i) 14] from Phaistos. Fig. 60a [CMS II 5 94] and CMS II 5 98 are reminiscent of Fig. 60b [WM 10 (ii) 4], even though the ceramic motif is formed by small semicircles drawn from the circumference, and the glyptic varieties are formed by parallel chevrons. According to Yule, centrally radiating motifs are amazingly numerous in the Phaistos sealing deposit, and most of the ceramic Classical Kamares varieties also come from Phaistos.7 Rosette varieties are frequently found in Classical [p. 44] Kamares contexts from Knossos as well as from Phaistos, and similar seal motifs appear in the Phaistos sealing deposit, cf. Fig. 61 [CMS II 5 138, CMS II 5 135, CMS II 5 139, CMS II 5 140, and WM 10 (iii) 3-4, 10 (iii) 6-12 and 10 (iv) 4-10]. Both the ceramic and the glyptic varieties are formed by small petaloid loops arranged around a circular centre and often have a floral character [see above, p. 14]. Star motifs are also a typical MM II motif in glyptics,8 and many of the extant examples come from the Phaistos sealing deposit as, for instance, Fig. 62a. The only ceramic parallel to them is an Early Kamares motif, Fig. 62b [WM 10 (vii) 2] painted on the base of a cup from Phaistos.

The dentate band first appears in Em III pottery from Eastern Crete, and also on some phase I ceramic varieties from Central and [p. 45] East-Central Crete.9 These early varieties consist of rather large, concave-sided triangles arranged in horizontal zones, and they differ considerably in character from dentrate bands from Classical Kamares and phase 3 contexts. These later dentate bands are no longer recognizable as rows of triangles in most cases, and many have a floral character reminiscent of that of some foliate bands [see WM 19:10-13]. In some cases, they have been "pictorialized" as palm leaves, Fig. 63a-b [WM 25 (i) 6-9]. The palm motifs with dentate bands all come from Phaistos. The dentate band is also found in glyptics, but seems to be less popular there than in ceramic decoration. The seal varieties are dated in EM II-MM II [cf. Fig. 63c].

A seal motif which consists of short transverse strokes between two parallel lines and which has been termed "ladder Ornament" by Yule, is sometimes arranged in a circle, so that it forms a radiating motif. Examples of this are CMS II 1 220 [Fig. 64a] and 417, dated in [p. 46.] MM IA-IB and in MM IB-II respectively.10 Their closest ceramic parallel is Fig. 64b [WM 10 (iii) 5] from an Early Kamares context at Phaistos, which frames a large chequered central circle.

Swastikas are rare in early pottery decoration as well as in early seals. There are a few palatial examples which belong to the Early and Classical Kamares phases and also a few provincial examples of phase 2 [WM 8:40-41, Fig. 65a, WM II (iii) 1 and WMP II (iii) 1-2]. They consist of rather simple crossing spiral derivatives. The seal motifs are dated in Em II-MM I A and in M II.11 They are much more elaborate than the pottery motifs and provided with a wealth of additional [p. 47] details, as for instance, Fig. 65b [CMS II 1 52b], but the basic structure is the same. Both the seal motifs and the pottery motifs have a dynamic character which is reminiscent of that of some Vierpass-motifs in Early and Classical Kamares decoration [see WM II (iii)

The seal motif which Yule has called aligned Borings12 is to some extent comparable to circular motifs in vase-painting. Fig. 66b [CMS II5 59] consists of borings aligned in circles around a circular centre and corresponds to WM 1:7-14, especially to WM 1:7, 8 [Fig. 66a] and 11. The seal motifs are dated in MM I B-III13 and the pottery motifs all belong to the Early Kamares phase, except WM 1:10 which is a Classical Kamares motif. Outside the palaces, these motifs are found in pottery from EM III onwards [see WPM i (iii) 1-6]. [p. 48]

The zigzag line is a simple motif which one might expect to find in any material, technique and period. Fig. 67b [CMS II 1 207] is, however, a rather elaborate variety, framed with small dots. It comes from a MM IA context at Lenda and corresponds to Fig. 67a [WM 32 (iii) 2] which has the same kind of framing dots and which belongs to the Early Kamares phase.

Spirals are the favourite motifs of Minoan pottery from Em III onwards. In contrast, they decorate comparatively few early Cretan seals. The seal motifs are of a large isolated type which does not appear in pottery decoration before the Classical Kamares phase and phase 3 in provincial Middle Minoan pottery. The closest parallel to Fig. 68b [CMS II 1 307] is Fig. 68a [WM 2(ii) 2], which belongs to the Classical Kamares and the Post-Kamares phase. The similarity is rather general. There may, however, be some connexion between Fig. 69b [CMS II5 184] from the Phaistos sealing deposit and Fig. 69a [p. 49] [WM 2 (ii) 7], which is painted on a small pithoid jar from Phaistos. Both the seal motif and the ceramic motif consist of large loops combined with short strokes. In the ceramic motif, the strokes are painted in a different colour on top of the spiral bands, which the strokes in the seal motif radiate around it, a difference which may be due to the difference of technique.

C-, J-, and S-hooks and spirals are also comparatively rare in glyptics and very frequent in pottery decoration, where they are often "pictorialized" and become the predecessors of many Late Minoan and Mycenaean varieties [see above, pp. 10f.]. Fig. 70b [CMS II 1 243], which is tentatively dated in Em II-MM IA, corresponds to several Classical Kamares motifs [Fig. 70a and Wm 3:13-17], except for one detail - the seal motif has a small, central triangular element, whereas the pottery motifs have a small circle in the same position. There are, however, also later seal motifs reminiscent of these Classical Kamares motifs, such as CMS II5 174, 194, and 204. Fig. 71b [p. 50] [CMS II5 181] from the Phaistos sealing deposit corresponds to Fig. 71a [WM 3:5-6], which can be attributed to the Early and Classical Kamares phases respectively. The ceramic motifs consist of a pair of antithetic J-spirals joined together to form a leaf-shaped motif of a type which continues into MM III, Late Minoan and Mycenaean as the "sacral ivy" motif [see above, p. 11], S-spirals like CMS II 1 206 and 220, which are dated in MM IA-IB, and Fig. 72b [CMS II2 143c], which is dated in MM IB-II,14 have the same basic structure as Fig. 72a [WM 5 (iv) 1], of the Classical Kamares phase, but are more elaborate.

Whirling motifs are first found in ceramic decoration of provincial type of phase 1 and become especially popular in provincial pottery of phase 2 and in Classical Kamares pottery. They are also frequently found in glyptics, especially Zweipass- and Vierpass-varieties, but in spite of this, there are rather few close parallels between the ceramic motifs and the seal motifs. CMS II2 290a, dated in Em III-MM IA, is slightly reminiscent of a Classical Kamares running spiral variety [WM 5 (iii) 1], and CS 196, which may belong to MM II, is similar to WM II (iv) II. The latter is the central motif on a well-known Classical Kamares bridge-spouted jar from Knossos. It has one more whirling element than the seal motif, but otherwise the arrangement of these elements around the centre of the motif is the same. CMS II 2 90 [Fig. 73b], which is dated in MM IB-II,15 corresponds [p. 51] to Fig. 73a [WM II (iv) 10]. Both the pottery motif and the seal motif consist of elements with pointed ends, drawn from a central circle. If these elements had not been curved, they would have formed a radiating motif or "marquerite" of a type that Evans used to distinguish his MM IIB from IIA pottery.16 The ceramic whirling motifs and the whirling motifs on the seals are composed of the same elements and have a close similarity to each other, but there is no exact correspondence [cf. Wm II and Yule, Early Cretan Seals, mot. 47-50].

Ceramic motifs and seal motifs of the Early and Middle Minoan periods are thus often composed of identical elements, and the basic structure of the motifs is also often the same. At the same time, few motifs correspond exactly to each other. The reason for this is probably that the motifs are used to decorate surfaces and objects of a very different type. Seals have flat, limited surfaces, and the surface on which they were intended to leave an impression was also more or less flat, whereas vases are three-dimensional and present a much larger, curved surface to decorate.17 The materials in which the seal-cutter and the vase painter work are also totally different and therefore also their techniques. The vase and seal motifs which show the closest correspondence to each other are circular motifs and motifs of radiating and whirling types - in other words, motifs which can be used for a [p. 52] small, flat surface of rounded shape as well as for the upper, convex part of a vase, even though the effect is rather different.18

The fact that very few ceramic motifs and seal motifs are identical suggests that the vase-painters and seal-cutters did not imitate or influence each other to any large extent. The composition of seal motifs and ceramic motifs seems to have developed along parallel lines. The closest correspondence between ceramic decoration and seal motifs is found in the MM II/Classical Kamares phase. In MM III, the seal motifs are often of "pictorial" type, whereas the ceramic motifs are to a much greater extent abstract or "pictorialized", and there is a considerable difference between Late Minoan seal motifs and pottery decoration.

Many Minoan vase motifs can be followed from the Em III or the beginning of the Middle Minoan to the Late Minoan period [see above, p. 11]. They do not show any unexpected innovations or sudden changes.19 The same is also the case with many seal motifs20 and this, plus the fact that similar decorative elements are used in both [p. 53] genres, indicates that the development of Minoan vase-painting and glyptics is a Cretan phenomenon without much outside influence. In vase-painting, there are actually no motifs that can be identified as foreign. In glyptics, there are some motifs which are usually identified as Egyptian: monsters, monkeys, a hippopotamus and a crocodile.21 Of these, the monsters, such as Fig. 74a-b [CMS II5 321 and CMS II5 322], seem to be more Egyptian in character than the others. They are reminiscent of, and may be representations of, the Egyptian goddess Twrt. The monkeys may have had an Egyptian origin, but the "hippopotamus" and the "crocodile" are difficult to identify as representations of a specific biological species and could possible be fantastic animals or monsters without Egyptian connexion [Fig. 75a-c]. Of undoubtedly Egyptian origin are, however, the scarabs and scaraboids in Minoan glyptic.22 A Mesopotamian and Anatolian influence has also been suggested for some seals and seal motifs. There are a few Minoan imitations of cylinder seals, although they never became popular in Crete,23 and it is obvious that their ultimate source of inspiration was Mesopotamia. Matz has suggested that some Minoan [p. 54] seals with interlace motifs have an Anatolian origin.24 The motifs in question, of which the earliest may be datable in EM III-MM IA, continue throughout the MM III period.25 They have been compared with EH II sealings from Lerna which are some 200-400 years earlier, and Matz has therefore postulated a group of pre-Hittite seals from which the Lerna sealings and, some hundred years later, also the Minoan seals are supposed to have developed. M. H. Wiencke, who published the Lerna sealings in 1958,26 has, however, pointed out that the similarity between the Lerna sealings and the Minoan motifs is rather superficial. Both Schiering and Yule have suggested an independent Cretan origin for the Minoan motifs.27

The discovery of a number of sealings with a resemblance to Minoan seal motifs at karahöyük near Konya28 has also led to speculation about Anatolian influence on Minoan glyptics. D. Levi published fifteen Minoan parallels from the sealing deposit at Phaistos together with fifteen of the sealings from karahöyük in ParPass 1969, and suggested that the seals from which the Phaistos sealings were made may have been brought to Crete with Anatolian settlers.29 But, as Matz pointed out,30 the similarity does not prove the presence of Anatolian settlers in Crete. The seals could also have travelled from Crete to Anatolia and the fact hat the karahöyük sealings seem to be less well-cut and less sophisticated, which Levi stressed to support his theory, does not prove anything about the direction. Most of the karahöyük sealings have abstract motifs, such as meandroids, [p. 55] interlace motifs, radiating motifs and Vierpass-varieties.31 Some of these motifs [Levi's nos. 3,5, 10 and 12] show a rather strong similarity to Cretan seal motifs, but the resemblance may be accidental and the motifs could have been invented independently in Anatolia. Levi speaks of a "quasi assoluta coincidenza con quella già da noi suggerita per l'archivio di F." [an almost absolute correspondence with the one already suggested for the archive at Phaistros], but there is no exact correspondence. On the basis of the material available at the present time, it is impossible to identify any Anatolian influence on Minoan glyptics with certainty.32 If the similarity between the karahöyük sealings and those from Phaistos is not accidental, the connexion between Minoan and Anatolian glyptics ought to go back to the beginning of the Early Minoan period in view of the fact that the development of Minoan seals motifs shows no sudden changes or unexpected innovations.

Early and Middle Minoan vase-painting and glyptics thus represent two parallel traditions which seem to move closer to each other in MM II and then diverge increasingly in the MM III and Late Minoan periods. Both traditions seem to be independently Cretan, and even if Egyptian and oriental features can be identified in the glyptics, they do not seem to have broken the tradition and changed the mainstream of development. [p. 56]

[Walberg, Gisela. Tradition and Innovation. Essays in Minoan Art. Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp Von Zabern. 1986.]



The contents of this site, including all images and text, are for personal, educational, non-commercial use only. The contents of this site may not be reproduced in any form without proper reference to Text, Author, Publisher, and Date of Publication [and page #s when suitable].