Ariadne's Tribe: Minoan Spirituality for the Modern World

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan family of deities. Ariadne's Tribe is an independent spiritual tradition that brings the deities of the ancient Minoans alive in the modern world. We're a revivalist tradition, not a reconstructionist one. We rely heavily on shared gnosis and the practical realities of Paganism in the modern world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?

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3D Minoan Art Part 1: Frescoes

This is the first in a four-part series about 3D elements in Minoan art. Find the other entries in the series here: Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.


In many ways, Minoan art feels more modern than ancient. It's certainly different from most of the Bronze Age art of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and it's distinct from the Iron Age art of Greece that followed after the LBA collapse.

One of the unique aspects of Minoan art is the amount of 3D decoration it has. Even some of the frescoes had raised decorative elements in them. The image at the top of this post is a spiraling all-over 3D decoration from the ceiling of one of the rooms in the Knossos temple complex. Pretty fancy, right? TO me, it looks like something out of a Victorian mansion.

The reason the Minoan artists were able to easily add 3D elements to their frescoes has to do with the nature of fresco painting. Essentially, wet fresco (the technique the Minoans used) involves applying plaster to a wall, ceiling, or other surface then painting on it before it has completely dried. This process allows the paint to absorb into the plaster and bond with it.

Frescoes remain vividly colored for much longer than paintings that only have the paint applied to a hard, non-absorbent surface. That's how the colors on the Minoan frescoes have survived this long. They've faded some, but not as much as they would have if they'd been painted using some other technique.

You've probably seen this fresco from Knossos, titled the Prince of the Lilies by Sir Arthur Evans back in the early 20th century:

Prince of the Lilies fresco from Knossos
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

You can see the 3d elements on the figure's shoulder and chest. There's a lot of argument about this one, since its reconstruction may be incorrect - that fabulous hat probably belonged to a different fresco altogether, for instance, and the white skin indicates that the figure was female, not male, so not a prince (there's no real evidence the Minoans ever had a monarchy - Evans' monarchist fantasies have generally been discarded by archaeologists).

But what we're focusing on here is the 3D aspect. I love how the artist has sculpted the muscles of this figure to look so realistic. It's possible that the person depicted here is a bull leaper; the pose and the clothing certainly suggest that possibility.

Here's another example of three dimensions in the art, a fresco of a charging bull and olive tree from the North Portico of the Knossos temple complex.

Charging Bull fresco from Knossos
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

You can clearly see the 3D elements of the bull here. What's not visible in this photo is that the stones along the lower right are also in 3D. Note that this, and all the other frescoes in the Knossos temple complex, are reconstructions. The originals are housed in museums to protect them from the elements.

Here's another one from the Knossos temple complex, this time a portion of a series of griffins that probably ringed the entire room:

Griffin fresco from Knossos
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This one is VERY 3D. It must have been quite striking to be surrounded by these magical creatures when standing in that room. Like all the Knossos frescoes, this one is only fragmentary. But the composition of the bits that survived suggests the design was pairs of griffins tethered to columns. That kind of iconography has some interesting meaning in Minoan art. In Ariadne's Tribe, we associate griffins with our Sun Goddess Therasia.

Knossos isn't the only place archaeologists have found 3D frescoes. This one from Pseira is especially evocative:

Fresco of seated woman from Pseira
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lone seated female figures in Minoan art are typically goddesses - or priestesses embodying goddesses. This is one of a pair of frescoes, each depicted a seated female figure.

I would just like to put in a word here for the amazing excavators and conservators who recovered, cleaned, and reconstructed these and other frescoes. The vast majority of Minoan frescoes are very fragmentary, as you can see from these photos.

Not only that - the frescoes weren't typically found in place on the walls. Nope. They were in piles of fragments on the floor. Reconstructing Minoan frescoes is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle when you're missing most of the pieces, the pieces you do have are alarmingly fragile, and you don't have the box so you don't know what the picture is supposed to look like. It's no wonder some of them were reconstructed incorrectly and archaeologists are still arguing about others (like the Prince of the Lilies).

Did the Minoan artists add 3D elements to these frescoes purely for decorative reasons? Or were the 3D bits intended to emphasize particular sacred aspects of the art? Interesting questions to ponder as we view this beautiful art.

Next time, we'll explore the 3D elements in Minoan pottery. Some of the pieces might surprise you!

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Laura Perry is a priestess and creator who works magic with words, paint, ink, music, textiles, and herbs. She's the founder and Temple Mom of Ariadne's Tribe, an inclusive Minoan spiritual tradition. When she's not busy drawing and writing, you can find her in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.


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