Art, Archaeology and Artistic Representation: The Case of the Knossos ‘Snake Goddesses’
The archaeology of the Minoan civilization, Crete (ca. 3000-1450 BC) has produced many artistic images, among them the so-called ‘Snake Goddesses’; two faience figurines from the Palace of Knossos. Discovered in the early 1900s by the archaeologist Arthur Evans, they soon became known because of the high quality of their manufacture; their unique material; their partial, frontal nudity; their unusual engagement with snakes; and their then tentative but now established cultic connection. The aim of our paper is to draw upon these creations in order to explore notions of representation, authenticity of voice and intellectual dialogue between art and its audiences.
We will begin by examining in what condition the ‘Snake Goddesses’ were found. We will then put them in context and trace their cultural biography, from fragmented artefacts to two- and three-dimensional archaeological representations, to three-dimensional reconstructions, into what are now considered to be symbols of Minoan and Cretan identity. Subsequently, we will illustrate tensions between the different notions of art and the human body in prehistory (figurines), modernity (Evans) and postmodernity (current audiences). Arising out of this, the questions we will consider include: a) what issues of identity arise during the excavation, use and reconstruction of an art form? b) what is the relationship between the body the figurines were fashioned after, a figurine as a surviving, fashioned human body and the archaeologist as an instrumental human body interacting with prehistoric art and corporeality? c) how can we approach the prehistoric art forms and (dis)entangle them from the artistic affordances of the archaeologist and his/her audiences?
This paper is the first of two parts, in which we explore art, representation and identity. It is complemented by Part II, Memory in the making: archaeology, photography and the materialization of identity in Crete in the early 1900s, in Theme 7.
Keywords: ‘Snake Goddesses’, Arthur Evans, Crete, Archaeology, Fragmentation, Identity, Authenticity
Dr. Anna Simandiraki-Grimshaw
Research Fellow, International Baccalaureate Research Team