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Minoan Pottery - A History Lesson

Level: Middle School, High School
Grades: 6-12 | Age: 11+ | Written by: Andrea Mulder-Slater
[Andrea is one of the creators of]
Part One >> Part Two >> Part Three

Minoan Pottery:

The very first flowering of civilization in Greek lands took place in Crete.

An island lying to the south east of the Greek mainland, Crete measures some 150 miles East to West and a mere 20 miles North to South. Considering its small size, isolated location and somewhat unsettled history, the civilizations of the island of Crete made some truly remarkable contributions to both Greek and Western European civilizations.

From the years 2600 BC to 1500 BC, the island of Crete was the center of a wondrous civilization. "Minoan" (after the legendary King Minos) was the name given by Sir Arthur Evans (an excavator early this century of the island of Crete) to the specifically Cretan culture that would otherwise be classified as Copper and Bronze Age.

Today, Minoan art and artifacts are widely known. Especially the ceramic ware created in a dazzling variety of forms, techniques and patterns.

The creating and building of pots is an art form first developed in Neolithic times. The need for pots arose when the food gathering peoples became food producing peoples. The cultivation of cereal crops meant that the produce had to be stored for future use, in baskets or pots.

Perhaps it was an accidental discovery that led to the making and firing of clay pots. If a clay lined basket had been accidentally burned, the people would have seen that clay - when fired - became hard and could be refired without harm being done to it. Thus, the possibilities of cooking would have been enormously extended. Eventually, pottery would become and art form in itself as knowledge of building and decorating increased.

The Minoans were one such society whose knowledge of simple pottery blossomed into magnificent art forms. Harriet Boyd Hawes (an early excavator of Crete) gives an overview of Minoan pottery, the Minoan potter and the inspiration for both:

"The Cretan potter's first appreciation of nature was subjective, not distinguishing clearly between himself and the world in which he moved... The line left on the sand be receding waves, the ripple on water as the wind crossed it, the mysterious inner markings of a shell, the thousand varieties of spirals in shells and in tendrils, the shadow cast on his path be interlocking twigs, the stir of leaves and the bending of branches, the flight of petals and seed vessels and the whirl, which is at the basis of so many forms of motion, gathering particles to one focus and flinging them forth again - these attracted him. His aim however was not to imitate what he saw, but to rather record an impression.

At the height of his power, the Minoan potter went directly to nature for his inspirations. His designs are full of grace and exuberance Reeds, grasses and flowers adorn his vases: the life of the sea is represented with astonishing fidelity."

> > On to Part Two

(where we learn about Vasiliki ware and the very beautiful Kamares ware)

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