Document Type


Date of Award



Floors, Decoration and ornament, Architectural, Greece, Crete

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Art History


The colorful painted plaster decoration on the walls of the Bronze Age palaces and mansions of Crete and Mycenae is a well known architectural feature. It is less widely known that a great many stucco floors were painted as well. This probably is because the information regarding these floors is scattered through the archaeological reports and seldom receives separate treatment. Only in an article by G. Rodenwaldt, "Mykenische Studien," in JdI, XXXIV, 1919, 83-106, and in the chapter by R. Hackl, "Die Fussboden," in Tiryns II, 222-237, are decorated floors treated as a separate artistic entity. The Rodenwaldt article not only discusses the painted patterns found in the palace at Mycenae but also speculates on the problems of the artists in marking off the basic plan and of the incongruousness of a painted floor in an open courtyard. Hackl's work describes the painted floors of the palace of Tiryns, traces the patterns found there to their possible origins and comments on the style. One of his conclusions is that the designs on the Mycenaean floors were derived from an imitation of carpets pieced together. An alternative to this conclusion is offered herein as a result of the present research: the evidence suggests that the Mycenaeans imitated the Minoan floor of inlaid square-cut stone slabs set with red painted grout, by painting and incising the stucco floor surface with a grid of red stripes which bordered patterned and colored squares. These patterns, most of which have their roots in Minoan prototypes, were imitative of the veining of marble and other stone. The painted imitation of these materials has long been recognized in wall and vase painting by scholars, and this kind of decoration can now be extended, in my opinion, to patterned floors as well. The Minoans also imitated inlaid stone slabs: stucco was troweled and painted in a manner which stressed realism rather than colorful decorative texture. From this one can see that the architectural use of painted stucco imitations of various materials in classical Greece and Rome, and indeed throughout the history of western art, is a tradition that is rooted in the Bronze Age.

Although the heavy borrowing of Minoan motifs by the Mycenaeans often makes it difficult to distinguish between the art of the two societies, the case of floor decoration is far different. The formula for the Mainland palaces, the painted grid, has not been found anywhere on Crete; conversely, the Minoan floors of stone slabs with red painted grout are absent from the Mainland. Only a few examples of another popular Minoan floor decoration, the all-over coat of red paint, have been found at Mycenaean sites; the areas in which these occur seem to have had an unusual use: a "stepped" room in the palace at Mycenae and the rooms of a stoa-like building at Gla.

More subtle than the obvious differences between a painted patterned flat stucco surface and inlaid stone was the aesthetic approach of the Minoans and the Mycenaeans to the decoration. The Mycenaeans, in imitating the ornamental Minoan floors, were more concerned with the sheer intricacy of pattern and colorful overall texture than with the relationship of design to architecture. (The appropriateness of the patterned imitation of stone slabs on flooring cannot, of course, be denied.) In contrast the thrust of the Minoan effort was to so combine structure and design as to reflect the harmonious joining of these two elements. The careful planning and the thorough knowledge of the problems of architectural requirements so evident in the symmetry of the Cretan design are not apparent in the decorated floors of the Mainlanders. This lack of familiarity with the handling of architectural space, as well as the choice of pattern, suggest that the decoration was carried out by artisans trained in another medium, very possibly vase painting.

Originally this research was concerned only with the painted floors of palaces. It soon became apparent, however, that on Crete many examples of this class of decoration existed in private dwellings, and so the study was expanded to include these. Because of the resulting large number of examples (29 for the Greek Mainland and 101 for Crete) the bulk of this paper has been put in the form of a descriptive catalogue. The first chapter, "The Painted Floors on the Greek Mainland," contains first a list and description of the various painted patterns used in the Mycenaean decoration with a comparison to the vase motifs as classified by A. Furumark (The Mycenaean Pottery: Analysis and Classification). The derivation of the patterns suggested by Furumark and in the publications of Evans, Hackl, Rawson, Rodenwaldt and others is included. Following this is the catalogue section in which a detailed description and discussion of specific problems are found after the individual numbered entries. The general problems of each site with regard to this study are briefly sketched under the subtitle heading for each site.

The second chapter, "Painted and Decorated Floors on Crete," begins with a classification of the various styles of Minoan floors and continues with a descriptive catalogue as in the first chapter.

These catalogues cannot be considered complete, however, as the research in the third chapter, "Infrared Photographic Research," demonstrates. The specific reflection of near infrared radiation was recorded through photography at Gournia, revealing the existence of a painted floor which had not been discovered during the course of the excavation. This discovery, added to the ambiguity, incompleteness, and self-contradiction of some excavation reports, leaves little doubt that many Minoan and Mycenaean floors should be re-appraised with modern scientific methods. Wherever possible the reports were supplemented by direct observation and communications with archaeologists.

Much of the excavation of Mycenaean palaces occurred many years ago, when the only date assignable by the excavators was "Mycenaean." After Carl Blegen's threefold subdivision of the Late Helladic (Mycenaean) era (Korakou, Boston and New York, 1921, 35 ff and 120 ff) all the extant palaces could be assigned by LH III. Furumark's yet finer subdivision enabled Blegen to assign the palace at Pylos to LH IIIB (the middle phase of LH IIIB) almost as soon as it began to be excavated. It is now universally agreed that all the extant palaces are of LH IIIB date (roughly the thirteenth century), and that date is accepted in this study.

The situation regarding the dating on Crete is considerably more complicated, and there still remains much disagreement. The terminology and dates given by the excavators have, therefore, been retained in this study. The terms "second epoch" at Tylissos, "second palace structures" at Phaistos, and "neo-palatial" at Zakros all refer to the same period and are more or less contemporary with Evans‘ second phase of palace construction (MM III- LM I) at Knossos.