Funds permitting, I would like to do another Minoan doll, this time one of the three Blue Ladies from Knossos. They’re not actually dressed in blue, just posed against a blue background. Here, you can see my faithful watercolor rendering of the ladies, with their pearl-bound tresses and patterned orange jackets.
But wait, you say, how can you do a doll when you don’t know what the bottom looks like?
I realize I have been neglecting my journal lately. But I have been working diligently on finishing Orestes: The Outcast, and on crafting this 1-inch scale doll: The Minoan Snake Priestess.Each of those fringes was hand-applied; each row took about 2-3 hours to complete. Yes, she is holding a coiled snake around her left hand, and the background is the Throne Room fresco from Knossos; the picture was taken prior to her being settled in her shadow box. Pictures of that will follow once I can get around the reflection off the glass.
One of the scenes on one side of the Agia Triadha sarcophagus. A priest and priestesses make offerings. Yes, a priest. Like the Egyptians, the Minoans color-coded their genders. So that woman with the dark skin playing the lyre is actually a man. From this and other evidence, we know that Minoan priests wore women’s vestments during some rituals. Perhaps it was to be able to participate in women’s rites to honor a goddess, who demanded that men cross-dress in her honor, or some other religious reason. Without written evidence, we can’t know for sure.
The final version of the Mycenaean Princess. I exchanged her wide cream sash for a narrower red one that highlights her red flounces and embroidered bodice, and posed her in front of a swallows-and-lilies fresco painting I did back in May.I am hoping to do the Minoan Snake Priestess soon, but have to find the right doll.
The Mycenaean Princess is dressed at the height of Bronze Age fashion. Her maid has dressed her long black hair in ringlets, gathering them, and binding her pin curls under a golden bandeau. She wears her best costume, soft wool saturated with olive oil to give it a silken sheen, and her best jewelry of gold and amethyst.
The Princess stands 5 1/5 inches tall and is porcelain. I did not assemble or wig her--that was done for me by artisan Lucie Winsky--but I dressed her in an approximation of 13th century costume using china silk and fine cotton. Everything, including the embroidery, was hand-stitched. Her skirt alone took 14 hours, and is not perfect, but then, she’s my first doll.
This charming pair of women with a young child is an ivory piece discovered on the palace mount at Mycenae. It’s been speculated that the women might be goddesses, perhaps Hera and Athena, the patron goddesses of Argolis, and the child squirming between them a divine child. The clothing detail is so exquisite that experts use the piece as part of their studies to determine what Mycenaean ladies wore, and how they wore it. The back of the carving has the women (goddesses?) sharing a patterned shawl (possibly Athena’s tasseled aegis referred to in the legends?)
Women's fashion in the Aegean Bronze Age is a large topic, so this post will deal only with clothes, and leave hair and cosmetics for later. From fresco evidence, it appears Mycenaean women got their fashion sense from the Minoans.
The basic garment which women wore every day was the shift dress, as shown in the below plate of a woman offering wine to a mounted soldier. It's basically a long tunic banded across the shoulders and along the hem for added strength. This garment would have been cut from wool, and worn with a short or long sleeved linen under dress, depending on the weather.
The more familiar Aegean garment is the flounced skirt, which, if you look at the images very carefully, you can see is actually a wraparound garment. The skirt was made from a long rectangle to which rows of flounces were sewn; it was then tied around the waist and cinched in with a girdle. Women would have worn some type of under skirt or petticoat underneath, and for special occasions, would have sewn little bells or appliqués to the flounces to produce a tinkling sound. Some votive statues like the famous Snake Priestess depict women wearing aprons, but these garments seem to be restricted to religious rituals, perhaps for catching blood during a sacrifice.
The below painting of ladies in the Queen's Megaron at Knossos is charming but somewhat misleading. It's unlikely that Minoan or Mycenaean women walked around bare-breasted all the time. Naked breasts denoted fertility, especially given the ample bosoms on display in Bronze Age art, so this was a ritual affair; the women in the painting would be preparing for a ceremony, not spending an average Minoan afternoon in the royal apartment. The open bodice was worn like a bolero jacket, held in place with a corset that was probably made from leather. Above, a lady depicted on a Theran fresco offering a necklace to a goddess. Notice the seam of her wraparound skirt, and her exposed breasts. The Minoan Snake Priestess from the 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Athens. She is wearing the ritual apron. In case you're curious, the costume appears to be a mixture of cloth and synthetic material, maybe rubber, and her breasts possibly a silicone or latex, similar to those worn by drag queens. Other, more concealing types of bodices were worn. In the Blue Ladies fresco from Knossos, you can see how the bodice is open all the way down the front yet still covers the breasts; it would have been wore with a shift underneath, which was either opaque enough to conceal the chest, or diaphanous, depending the wearer's mood.
Above, a lady depicted on a Theran fresco offering a necklace to a goddess. Notice the seam of her wraparound skirt, and her exposed breasts.
The Minoan Snake Priestess from the 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Athens. She is wearing the ritual apron. In case you're curious, the costume appears to be a mixture of cloth and synthetic material, maybe rubber, and her breasts possibly a silicone or latex, similar to those worn by drag queens.
Other, more concealing types of bodices were worn. In the Blue Ladies fresco from Knossos, you can see how the bodice is open all the way down the front yet still covers the breasts; it would have been wore with a shift underneath, which was either opaque enough to conceal the chest, or diaphanous, depending the wearer's mood.
Both Mycenaean men and women wore jewelry. Jewelry was handcrafted from gold, silver, semiprecious stones, and glass paste. From some of the finds in Mycenaean and Minoan tombs, wealthy women also sewed wafer-thin gold or silver appliqués to their clothing. Imagine their skirts chiming and tinkling as they walked.
Examples of gold bead bracelets and necklaces.
Some of the gold adornments, particularly the finds from Mycenae's Grave Circle A, are so thin and fragile they must have been made strictly for burial. One example is the wafer-thin pendant depicting a goddess with foliage sprouting from her head, shown below.
Crowns were made from thin, beaten gold sewn onto cloth strips, such as this famous spoked diadem. It is very large, and must have made quite an impression. Clytaemnestra would have worn something like this. Below the diadem are examples of the appliqués women wore on their clothing.
Below is a modern version of a Mycenaean/Minoan semiprecious and gold necklace. The materials are agate, aventurine, and vermeil. Ancient women would have worn two or three such necklaces, of varying lengths, at once.