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Santorini Theran Art
Theran Art

The dynamism of prehistoric Thera is depicted vividly in its artistic expression, which is characterized by expressive power and experimentation. Though influenced by the Cretan art, they combined it with their own culture and created unique pieces of art. The Theran wall paintings are considered to be the most monumental artistic expression of the Aegean Civilization. They first appeared in Crete in the late 18th century BC and spread to Cyclades in the beginning of the 17th century BC. In Akrotiri, they decorated the walls of public and private buildings with frescoes of high artistic level that were preserved because of the pumice. It has been ascertained, though, that older wall paintings existed under those that were saved.

Santorini Island: Theran Art

Theran artists used a mixed technique of buon fresco and fresco secco. Firstly, they smoothed the surface with pebbles they had especially for this reason and then, they painted while the surface was still damp. They used white for the background and black, red, yellow and blue for the painting. The subjects were various: pictorial and decorative, inspired by nature and human life, on a large scale and in miniature. They follow the Cretan conventions: tripartite horizontal organization, absence of third dimension, females in white and males in brown. Rarely, they combine painted and relief ornaments.

Apart from the wall paintings that present purely natural scenery, like the Papyri, the Spring, the Monkeys and the Antelopes, there are also several frescoes that familiarize us with the daily Theran life, like the Ladies, the Fishermen, the Boys Boxing, the Fleet and the Crocus Gatherers.

The Ladies fresco is an austere and clear composition that does not look static; instead it is rhythmically organized and full of vitality. The graceful figures are presented in 2/3 life size, which is very common in Theran art.

The frescoes of the Monkeys, the Antelopes and the African reveal the cosmopolitan mentality of the Therans, as they present animals that do not belong in the Aegean fauna. The first one is an artistic work full of spontaneity, realism and intense movement, whereas the frontal view of one of the monkeys is a very innovative element.

The artistic intelligence of the Therans is not restricted to the frescoes. The painted offering tables, used as cult vessels, combine harmoniously form and image, creating miniature masterpieces. The table with the dolphins, for example, offers a miniature frieze of 1.30 meters long if developed horizontally.

Theran pottery is of high importance, too, both in making and in painting. The most common types are the nippled ewers, the ribbed vessels and the cylindrical rhytons. Chalices, adopted by the Cretan tradition, are rarer. The bird jugs deserve a special mention, as their unique shape reminds of birds ready to fly away.

Vases were decorated both by schematic and pictorial motifs. The spiral and ripple patterns are the commonest in the case of the first category, whereas the second one includes a variety of patterns, from cultivated plants (e.g. barley and grapes) and animals (e.g. swallows and dolphins) to mythological beings (e.g. griffin). Humans are rarely represented though. The vitality of the vase painting alludes to monumental painting - actually, there are vases that imitate frescoes, like the pithos with the bull and the goats on the one side, the seagulls and the dolphins on the other. A very interesting and unique vase is the one that had as a basis the egg of an ostrich.

The Museum of Prehistoric Thera persuades even the most skeptical visitor for the high artistic level that Therans reached. And one should always bear in mind that the importance of Theran art does not lie just in its artistic value. It also gives us information both about the daily life of Therans and of what Santorini looked like before the colossal eruption that changed the island for ever.

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