Thursday 13 December 2007

Nanno Marinatos and Clairy Palyvou
University of Chicago and National Technical University of Athens

The Minoan Paintings of Tell el Dab’a: Reconstruction Royal Ideology and Symbolism
For thirty years now Manfred Bietak has been conducting one of the most important excavations of the East Mediterranean at Tel el Dab’a. This is a city on the Eastern Nile Delta founded during the Middle Kingdom; it peaked during the 18th and 19th dynasties.
Although the houses of the city are not preserved the abundance of finds and graves document a complex multi-ethnic community. One of the most impressive of Bietak’s finds at Tell el Dab’a is the hundreds of fragments of Minoan paintings which decorated at least two palatial buildings of a very large complex. There is no doubt that they are Minoan works of art and not Aegypto-Cretan hybrids. It is also certain that they are to be dated during the reign of Thuthmosis III in the 18th dynasty.
The question is why the Egyptian pharaoh Thuthmosis III chose to adorn one of his official palaces with Minoan paintings and symbolism. An answer will be attempted in this lecture: there was a common ideology between Egypt and Crete, an ideology which was the channel of communication between royal courts and was perhaps reinforced through intermarriage. 
The wall paintings were found in a deplorable condition: they had been torn off the walls and thrown in a dump eroded by humid soil and invaded by fungi. Moreover the thousands of fragments do not join and it has taken a very long time to study them and determine how they cohere together. The technical characteristics of the plasters as well as how the paintings were restored using a computer programme will be presented by Clairy Palyvou, while Nanno Marinatos will speak about their significance in terms of royal ideology. 
Two Reconstructions will be discussed: bull leaping and a predatory scene of lions hunting bulls.  Both of these have parallels from Knossos. Most importantly: the theme of lion predation has parallels in Egyptian art and it is closely tied there with royal ideology and cosmic symbolism. 
The most important motif among the Tell el Dab’a paintings is the half rosette which borders the Bull Leaping frieze; this motif is perhaps the key to the interpretation of all Tell el Dab’a paintings. Close parallels come from the palace of Knossos but also the palaces of Mycenae and Pylos: the half-rosette is thus a symbol of all Aegean royal houses. It even features as a divine symbol on Minoan-Mycenaean gold rings. But this is not all: the rosette is also a divine/solar symbol occurring on Anatolian and Syro-Palestinian seals. Perhaps it is not an accident that in the Hittite hieroglyph pictographic script the split rosette designates king-sun or “GOD”.


Next Seminar

Friday 12 May 18.30

M. Marthari
Raos on Thera...