"AEGEAN WALL-PAINTING IN LATE BRONZE AGE: THE CONSTRUCTION OF AN EDUCATED ETHNIC IDENTITY THROUGH THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE ART"
ΕΙΣΗΓΗΣΗ ΣΤΟ 4ο ΔΙΕΘΝΕΣ ΣΥΝΕΔΡΙΟ ΜΕ ΘΕΜΑ "WORD IN EDUCATION. MORAL UPBRINGING THROUGH ARTS AND LITERATURE", ΠΟΥ ΔΙΕΞΗΧΘΗ ΣΤΙΣ 27 ΚΑΙ 28 ΟΚΤΩΒΡΙΟΥ 2016 ΤΟ ΙΗΣΟΥΙΤΙΚΟ ΠΑΝΕΠΙΣΤΗΜΙΟ JESUIT UNIVERSITY IGNATIANUM OF KRAKOW, POLAND
The basic intention of this work is to demonstrate clearly how the ideology of the Aegean peoples during the Late Bronze Age incorporates in wall paintings, in its iconographic programs, symbolism and ritual, particularly in the depiction of the natural environment, which has central position in the objectification and spread of that ideology on citizens or nationals of the state through the process of their education.
In the Late Bronze Age a civilization was developed in the Aegean, belonging mostly in the world of the Eastern Mediterranean, but also deeply independent. In the East during the same period there has been a flourishing of cultures with mutual deep influences. However, the Aegean civilizations, the Minoan civilization, the Cycladic and the Mycenaean, tried through their art- among others - to build their own ethnic identity, to give their own mark in the Mediterranean world. Art and especially the monumental painting, through the public and private expression, contributed a lot to that aim, to "educate" people to form their own cultural characteristics. Thus, they were able to stand out from the Egyptians and the Canaanites, with whom they had very close relations, both in politics and religion, commerce and art. So, wall-paintings were used as a "school" that educated the inhabitants of the Aegean world in an ideology, on which the first great civilization of Europe was based.
So, why do we think that the frescoes can play a role in building the state ideology and thus how they can educate the generations of a society to an ideology associated with ethnic characteristics?
First of all, you will comprehend the murals as an integral part of social life of the people and not as decorative objects in exposure conditions.
Apart from this, the wall-paintings serve as visualization elements of signified. Pure architectural surfaces are activated, they lose the neutral character, the distinction between open - closed space is cancelled. A characteristic of the mural painting is that it constitutes a representation through images, it is a visual idiom and in parallel a communication medium. It constitutes a narrative text, which formulates central concepts and symbols, making them tangible and it deposits in space. The iconography to a large extent is reproduced if the meanings in the context of a "long-term" are reproduced, which aimed at justification, support and reproduction of that authority which designated its construction.
To achieve this, Aegean peoples used the depiction of the landscape in murals as an ideological element, considering that the landscape has a very important role in the ideological construction they wished.
We will examine the features of the Aegean iconography associated with a special element which characterizes the way collectivity is expressed; i.e. how the Aegean natural environment is depicted on Aegean frescoes and how this type of depiction illustrates the “constructing” of an ethnic landscape.
. In order to succeed in this, Aegean people usually turned to symbolism. So, it looks like the selection of some themes, associated with natural environment in Minoan and Theran art, is not random at all. The significance of the patterns, which are repeated but also possess a specific place in the “architecture” of the representation, shows that they are charged with special meanings. Moreover, the repetition of the same figurative units in diverse archaeological contexts (utensils, seals, jewellery), and the ritual of the rules followed in the representation impose their association with special meanings expressing a symbolic idea for the people who conceived them. So, a “symbolic narrative” is composed referring to cultural processes that affect the Minoan lifestyle.
In this frame, between the edges of symbolism and representation, are these special features of Aegean iconography that allow the configuration of Ethnic Landscapes and are associated with nature. It is the representation of a number of conventions and hybrid depictions of the natural world, that seem to relate directly to ideology – maybe not with our contemporary meaning of the term ideology, but at least freed from financial or other associations such as tradition or social memory.
On the other hand though, In Egypt, illustration is a separate, special chapter in studying the way landscapes were depicted in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 2nd millennium BC, during which it dominated the region from an economic and a cultural point of view. At the same time, the Aegean had developed a multidimensional way of communication with Egypt, exchanging merchandise, people, ideas and… “art”. This kind of contact in turn, participated in forming an art, where each group of people contributed in their own way in depicting the landscape, maintaining, to a great extent, their own ethnic characteristics.
Egyptian iconography cannot be understood – like other forms of prehistoric art– outside its special functions and ideological or religious context.
The Egyptians’ attempt to impose the invariance on their iconography (sculptured, graven, wall-paintings, in both anthropogenic and natural landscapes), in the context mentioned above, turned out to be a kind of regularity to a great extent.
It has been stressed that this invariance is interpreted by the standardization principle. Naturally, both the canon and the invariance do not find their roots in esthetic choices. On the contrary, we could state that they serve social decisions. Nevertheless, the Egyptian iconography is idealistic, it has an intense symbolism and it can be viewed in a religious, ritual and of course in a social context, since the viewers of the representation should be integrated in an homogenized ethnic community, in order for the message to be semantically recognisable. Usually, this message is considered to be a medium of reproducing political power and dominance over the world based on its regularity. Thus, we must consider the canon as an ideological element promoting the static, which is finally surpassed by social principles, but also the esthetic that, at the end, has an impact on the art. Even though it is characterized by similarity, in the end innovation manages to enforce itself (see the New Kingdom and Amarna period).
In conclusion, one could argue that the canon in Egyptian iconography gives some data that the artist should strictly keep to. Not only external but also internal factors influenced deeply the evolution of art in Egypt. The repression of the Hyksos during New Kingdom, and especially during the 18th Dynasty, makes the changes and innovations in the Egyptian art even more tangible. The artistic trends are liberated from the conventions and the themes are often characterized by uniqueness. We observe that the elements of natural environment evolve in an illustrative way and receive some elements associated with the Aegean art, probably combined with internal movements in Egypt, and thus are worth being thoroughly investigated. In this way, we realize that by not having clarified the seriousness of the Aegean impact, we stand to the point that Ethnic Landscapes reveal the dynamics that the iconography, as well as the iconography of the natural environment has in its interaction with other people’s arts.
Summarizing the references to the appearance of the iconographic programs, motifs and thematic in other means of expression during the Bronze Age, we could argue that the patterns we see in the Aegean murals are not the product of "parthenogenesis". Any contact with other cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean, as close as they are, cannot demonstrate here the beginnings of the Minoan iconography, which seems to be a case inside Crete. The mural painting appears in the Aegean during the Middle Minoan III initially in Crete, and particularly in the palatial surroundings of Knossos, as a key component of Minoan art with specific uses and purposes. Certainly, the study needs to be integrated into the wider question about the role of palaces and villas, possible as control centers of construction and redistribution of raw materials, craftsmen and products. Certainly, anyone considering the specific functional role of the frescoes on the life of Minoan or Mycenaean people, will consider how the artist was expressing the experiencing of the landscape and how the viewer was receiving it. The stamps, the Kamares pottery, the pottery "of prestige", the floral, the marine and the palatial style, the murals and the ornate jewelry, all related each other (theme, time, etc.) probably because they served the same - palatial - ideology. They incorporate or represent the same status symbols, which explain the particular nature as well, carrying entitlement to specific readings from the viewer. However, it should be emphasized that these pictorial units not suddenly appeared in the MMII period in the frescoes, but instead we encounter in their development at other means of expression of human perception of the landscape as well, including written pottery, seals or jewelry.
The concept of ethnic identity, which derives from the ideology dominant during the establishing of the European national states, does not always allow us to consider the exchange of ideas of ethnic groups as an interaction degree and as a degree that reflects the closeness of their relation. Whereas its homogenization – which reflects the material culture – refers to the relation and interaction, its discontinuity -referring to the socio-political relation- is due to the natural distance that exists between ethnic groups. The cultural role that the ethnic qualities have is obvious, while at this point, we should emphasise that a direct association between cultural similarities / dissimilarities and ethnic limits rarely exists. Despite that, the cultural practices, and ethnic characteristics which might be potentially a part of them, create symbols via which the acting subjects materialize their cultural distinctive traits (through similarities or dissimilarities or even both of them) and thus, their identity in regard to the others. This materializing is reflected in the material culture and can be considered as evidence of the subject’s identity.
Moreover, the collectivities modulate the landscape they experience as an identity. In other words, the socio-cultural identity the collectivities create and express is converted in notion of landscape, amongst others. The reminiscences, the stories, the comprehension, the temporality, the social activity are the means that the collectivities use in order to create the notion of landscape and to express that notion through the representative art, announcing at the same time their collective identity. Thus, the Ethnic Landscapes are associated not only with the space but also with the identities of the collectivities that generate them.
Thus, the Aegean inhabitant either uses the symbols delivered to them or creates new ones or even alters the ones belonging to other peoples with who they comes into cultural contact (Egyptians, Babylonians, Canaanites, Hittites etc), in order to define their self-reference and develop ethnic characteristics. These characteristics will on the one hand distinguish them, from these people, by enhancing the collectivity, and on the other hand, will enable themselves to come into contact with the aforementioned peoples, to co-evolve themselves and to co-operate with them, on the grounds of some specific capabilities they will develop.
In this frame, the Aegean inhabitants use the elements of the natural environment, either these are real or imaginary, native or exotic (the bisectors may not play a substantial role at that time), in order to depict a landscape that will enable them – beside the rest of the functions that such a representation might have – to create an element of self-reference so as to structure or develop an identity relative to their aspirations, according to their social memory, tradition, and feelings.
On the other hand, the ethnic characteristics include also the notion of diversity, of cultural difference form the “others”. And actually, apart from the references to “Egyptianization” of the Aegean area and the “Aegeanization” of Egypt, Egyptian art, mostly during the Old and Middle Kingdom, presents special features when depicting a landscape, as these features are primarily defined by the invariance and the Canon. But on the other hand, Aegean art too keeps having a special character, which allows the inhabitants of Cyclades and the Cretans and also the people of the Eastern Mediterranean with whom they came into contact, to realise the (self-) determination of the ethnicity in the Aegean area and the place it had inside of them. The highlights of the elements of the natural environment are reflections of the inhabitants’ ideology in the representative art. These reflections enable them to articulate their own cultural speech. Therefore, these people presented their ideology turning it into the material culture they produce and, in this case, into the frescoes on the wall of some specific buildings and spaces, materializing also the elements of the natural and the unrealistic environment which participate to that ideology. In this way, they set out the self-reference points that the subject would have used as such managing at this way to educate the new generations to that ideology they developed.