Home Art History Santorini Boasts First Painting of Nature Scene in European Art History

Santorini Boasts First Painting of Nature Scene in European Art History

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Detail of the Spring fresco in Santorini.public domain

The Spring fresco, discovered at the Late Bronze Age site of Akrotiri on Santorini, is thought to be the first painting of a natural landscape in the history of European art.

This spring fresco, also known as the “Lily Room Fresco”, discovered in the Delta complex here, has become a hot topic among archaeologists and art historians.

Murals covering three walls of this small room raise questions about the room’s purpose.

More importantly, the iconographic meaning of the image has puzzled researchers and scholars, and opinions are divided about the behavior of the swallow in flight.

The importance of Akrotiri on Santorini

The discovery of the Spring frescoes at Akrotiri has revealed much about Greek civilization in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (20th to 17th centuries BC).

Akrotiri was one of the most important centers in the prehistoric Aegean Sea. The first settlement of Akrotiri dates back to the late Neolithic period, at least the 4th millennium BC.

During the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC) there was a settlement at Akrotiri. During the Middle and Late Bronze Age, the settlement expanded and became one of the most important urban centers and ports in the Aegean Sea.

A vast area of ​​approximately 200 acres, an excellent urban organization, a highly advanced sewerage and piping network, ornate high-rise buildings with elaborate mural decorations, and an abundance of furniture and household items, as excavations have shown. , proving its advanced development.

Akrotiri Santorini
Thera Museum of Prehistoric History, located at the Akrotiri ruins on Santorini.Credit: Rt44/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

The variety of imported products housed within the building demonstrates the breadth of Akrotiri’s network of cultural connections. The city had close ties to Minoan Crete, but also had contacts with mainland Greece, the Dodecanese, Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt.

Life in this city came to an abrupt end in the last quarter of the 17th century BC. At that time, residents were forced to abandon the city due to a devastating earthquake.

Subsequent volcanic eruptions, like Pompeii, covered the city with lava and ash, creating a protective shield that left buildings and their contents intact.

The Akrotiri frescoes are of particular importance for the study of Minoan art, as they are much better preserved than the frescoes already known from Knossos and other sites on Crete.

Scholars have suggested that the destruction of Akrotiri may have inspired Plato to write the story of Atlantis.

Questions about the spring frescoes in Santorini

Like all Minoan wall paintings, the spring frescoes are brightly colored, ranging from red and orange to black, blue, purple, and even white.

The paint was made from crushed mineral powder and applied to wet or dry lime plaster applied to the walls.

When the plaster dries, a chemical process known as carbonation occurs, where the lime reacts with carbon dioxide in the air and fixes the pigments into the plaster.

Spring fresco Akrotiri Santorini
The entire Spring fresco in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.Credit: Paolo Villa/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Akrotiri’s frescoes depict animals, plants, or the natural world, such as fish and seascapes.

Also depicted were mammals and mythical creatures such as bulls, antelopes, monkeys, ducks, swallows, and griffins.

Fragmentary evidence of frescoes has been found on various types of buildings at Akrotiri, suggesting that this form of decoration was not restricted to the wealthy, but was enjoyed by all.

But scholars are puzzled about the birds depicted in the spring frescoes. Are swallows courting or is their behavior more sinister?

Are they fighting or playing? The lilies and colorful rocks in the mural remind the viewer of several other interpretations.

Does it symbolize the natural cycle of birds eating lilies? Or is it the return of nature in spring, where swallows are happy and have fun?

Regardless of the actual meaning of the birds, the Spring fresco remains the first natural landscape in the history of European art.

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