7th October 2016
It is an extraordinary survival from the Orientalising period (c. 730–580 BC) of Archaic Crete. Its minutely engraved mythological scenes are some of the earliest such depictions in surviving Greek art, and importantly, the finest known from this period.
This striking sub-type of Cretan armour was widely held to be a mythological figment of the heroic age, known only through artistic depictions such as the archaic terracotta figurine of Athēna from Gortyn. But the helmet reveals more information,
The extensive, elaborate decoration on the helmet sheds light on the presence and development of artistic production on Archaic Crete. In other parts of the contemporary Greek world, pottery was the most common medium for conveying narrative images. However, in Crete the primary vehicle for narrative, mythological, Pan-Hellenic content seems to have been ornamented bronze armour instead.
Close inspection (see right) reveals narrative scenes from myth – the centaur Cheirōn with (perhaps) the youthful Achilles; Perseus bearing the Gorgon’s head to Athēna; Apollo (or Orpheus?) playing his kithara; and (uncertainly) Hektor leaving Andromache for battle at Troy carrying a circular shield and wearing a high-crested Cretan helmet. This image, along with the terracotta figurine of Athēna, indicates how the helmet would have originally looked; with the ‘mysterious’ crest a holder for plumage or other decorative material.
The Cretan helmet adds to our very limited knowledge of mythological stories current on Crete in this period. You have a wonderful opportunity to examine it at Frieze Masters.
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