The Old Palace period saw the zenith of the polychrome Kamares style. The development of Kamares ware is divided into four phases, from 2000 to about 1600 BC, with each phase occupying roughly one century: the Pre-Kamares phase, which falls entirely in the final Pre-Palace period, Early Kamares and Classical Kamares, the phases when the style was at its height, and Post – Kamares, which was manufactured in the first phase of the New Palace period. The Old Palace period includes the early Kamares (MM IB, MM IIA) and classical Kamares (MM IIB, MM IIIA) phases. The name of the style derives from the cave of Kamares on Mount Ida, where examples of the ware were first around. The greatest quantities of Kamares pottery come from the workshops of the old palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, where it is mainly found. Kamares vases have also been found in sanctuaries (the caves on Mount Dikte and Mount Ida), in harbours (Kommos, Poros), and in the cemeteries associated with these sites. Vases made at Knossos and Phaistos were exported to the whole of Crete and outside the island. There was a third, more ‘provincial’, workshop at Malia, and other ‘provincial’ workshops have been identified at Gournia and Vasiliki in east Crete. A technological revolution in pottery took place about 1900 BC (MM IIB), with the use of the quick potter’s wheel. This made it possible to make fine, elegantly designed vases, which displaced handmade pottery. Purer clay was used for small vases. The decorative motifs became complex and dynamic, and the compositions sophisticated.
The Kamares style reached its pinnacle in MM IIB (1800-1700 BC), a phase which saw the manufacture of brilliant, multi-coloured, painted, meticulously executed, wheelmade pots. In MM IIA (1700-1650 BC), the productions and paintings of vases were maintained at a stable level, and towards the end of this phase the use of colour began to decline and naturalistic elements were added, foreshadowing the new styles of the New Palace period.
The Kamares style is one of the most decorative styles in the history of pottery throughout the entire world. Its basic features are polychromy, floral and animal motifs, complex decorative design and composition, and its inventiveness.
The surface of the vase is covered with a smooth, shiny, solid, dark or black slip-polish, which forms the background for the composition. The decoration is executed in various shades of ochre and red and, more rarely, violet, orange, yellow, brown, and blue. The motifs are curvilinear, undulating, alternating, interlocking, and mobile, and produce a multi-coloured effect. Painted, relief and embossed elements (mainly marine creatures and seashells) are combined. Figures of animals or plants, rendered in relief or even in the round, are painted in various colours. The composition makes use of torsion, flowing or directed movement, alternating directional, and whirling imagery. The large number of Kamares motifs is almost beyond comprehension. Every new excavation produces new, unexpected, original examples.
Four vases from the palace at Phaistos may be attributed to the same painter, who showed a preference for rock-work and chequer – board pattern. The vases in question are a krater, a jug, and two one – handled eggshell cups.
The most popular shapes in the Kamares style are a wide variety of cups: handleless, one – handled with a vertical strap handle, globular, with straight walls, with carinated walls, with undulating rim, etc. other common open shapes are drinking cups, skyphoi, bowls, and fruitstands. The most popular closed shapes are a wide variety of jugs, bridge – spouted deep globular skyphoi, small pithoi, rhyta, amphoras, teapots, kantharoi, strainers, askoi, zoomorphic plastic vases, and so on.
Kamares - style vases may be classified on the basis of their function into tableware, kitchen ware, storage vases, trade vases, cosmetics vases, and so on. One distinctive group consists of ritual or cult vessels: plastic rhyta in the shape of animals or heads of bulls of felines.
A distinctive sub-group of Kamares pottery is formed by Barbotine Ware, which has a rough, prickly, polychrome surface. Chronologically, barbotine ware belongs to the late Pre-Palace and early Old Palace period (2000-1850 BC); it was popular in central Crete and the main production centre was apparently at Phaistos.
An even more remarkable, highly interesting sub-group consists of Eggshell vases, mainly cups and drinking cups, executed in a unique technique with rare artistic perfection. The very thin walls are possibly imitating metal vases. The decorative motifs are characterised by dynamic motion in the form of torsion or undulation. Set in isolation or in zones, the motifs consists of meshes of shoots, spirals, maeanders, running spirals, foliate ornaments, and interlocking undulating lines. More naturalistic motifs are also found: palm-trees, crocuses, lilies, octopuses, nautilus shells, and fish. Human figures occur rarely, as in the decoration of a bowl from Phaistos depicting worshippers dancing around a xoanon.
The old dark-on-light styles continued to evolve alongside the polychrome style, and white paint was added to them. The large vases (pithoi) usually have relief decoration (rope pattern and medallions) and other attachments, and a large number of handles. ‘Trickle’ decoration, first attested at Myrtos in the Pre-Palace period, is common in these large vessels.
Dr Andonis Vasilakis