Minoan Admirals Flotilla Fresco Shipping Scene Restoration

W. Sheppard Baird

Joined November 2010

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Precision Restoration
Late Bronze Age (LBA)
Late Minoan I (LM I) Period
Late Cycladic I (LC I) Period
Painted sometime before ~1615 BC
West House, Room 5, South Wall
Akrotiri, Thera (Santorini), Greece

This is the second precision minimalist restoration of a scene from the Minoan Miniature Frieze Admirals Flotilla Fresco found on the South Wall of Room 5 in the West House in Akrotiri. It depicts a large shipping scene from the center of the fresco. The work was derived from multiple original sources but especially from the superb publication “The Wall Paintings of Thera” by Christos Doumas. The focus of this view is on a variety of ship types which clearly shows the Minoans were well versed in the different methods of propelling a ship across the sea including the use of the sail as the only means of power. The sailing ship’s top mast indicates a (most probably) bronze eye-ring fixture that supports the sail. To me the most puzzling parts of this scene are the thin long poles(?) projecting from the stern turrets of some of the ships and the small figure on the right of the base of the stern turret of the sailing ship. Could the function of the figure be to somehow control the lines to the sail?

Other noteworthy aspects of the work center on the ship with 21 oars and prominent sun symbol on the side of it’s hull in the top left. This vessel must have been very large. If you assume a tight 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) for the rowing space allotted to each oar, this results in 27.3 meters (89.6 feet) just for the assembly of oarsmen. This ship most probably well exceeded 35 meters (~115 feet) in length with a maximum beam width of something like 7 to 9 meters (23 to 29.5 feet). This is significantly larger than Columbus’ largest ship on the first voyage – his flag ship the Santa Maria. It has been estimated at anywhere from 17.6 to 26.4 meters (57.7 to 86.6 feet) in length with a max. beam width of 5.9 to 7.9 meters (19.4 to 25.9 feet).

While it’s highly decorated with sun-burst appearing floral ornaments, etc. for (probably) a celebration event related to the sun goddess, it has four boar’s tusk helmets adorning it under the awning shading its passengers. It could have three more of these helmets on the ship’s unrestored stern turret for a total of seven. As far as I can tell none of the other ships in the flotilla has more than one helmet. This very large ship must have been something like what we would refer to as the admiral’s flag ship. Bronze Age boar’s tusk helmets are symbols of war, conflict, and military power.

With the completion of this shipping scene about forty percent of the Miniature Frieze has now been fully restored using the precision minimalist methodology. This experience has given me a deep respect and admiration for the original artist’s skill and technique. The Miniature Frieze is only 0.43 meters (~16.9 inches) high. To confine such an expansive scene in a relatively small format must have been a very great challenge indeed. The rendering of the detail is so fine that if only one artist was involved it must have taken many weeks to complete. With the obvious goal of telling the story of the event as comprehensively and accurately as possible I’ve come to believe the artist(s) had a strong sense of the achievement of excellence. This fresco would be a great masterpiece in art history if done by any artist in any time.

W. Sheppard Baird

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