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Art Critique: Helladic or Mycenaean Stirrup Jar With Octopus 1200 BC

By Edited Oct 24, 2015 0 0

This piece of pottery is mostly monochromatic with a range of ivory, rust orange, and brown. Without knowing how large the actual piece is, I assume that it is fairly large due to the double handles attached to the spout. At first glance I only noticed a set of curly lines with flowers and some fish, however after I studied the curves and placement of the darker brown sections, I did see the octopus. The octopus itself has a very slightly un-proportionate sides with the right side set of tentacles appearing thicker and lower ranging on the pottery surface. I also notice that the initial body of the octopus is leaning to the right; maybe signifying the swaying movement underwater. With a closer look I could also see tiny straight brushstrokes that closely outline the thick brown lines depicted as tentacles; I relate those tiny brush strokes to be the artist's interpretation of the suction cups of the tentacle arms. In addition to tiny details I see somewhat curved and layers semi-circle that seem to extend from under the octopuses head and spread beneath its body while swimming upward. Overall it looks like the artist was trying to depict the cloud of ink that an octopus emits which may appear layered, rounded cloud-like shaped I life. I do not see a repeating pattern within this piece of artwork, but I do see a general theme of an underwater world that someone has witnessed.

Outside of the octopus image I then noticed the couple of fish that were painting below the octopus as if swimming-or maybe the octopus was stalking it as prey. The fish have distinctive brown outlining with smaller, lighter strokes that resemble the texture of a fish's scaly exterior. The other prominent detail that ties this entire series of images together is the smaller flowers that are painted on the top of the vase, again in a contrasting ivory and brown set of curved lines outlining a basic solid brown flower.

Overall, this artwork strikes me as the work of a fisherman, someone who would have had access to seeing these sea creatures so closely. Let alone being able to see these creatures enough to recall with great detail what each looks like. This artist chose to emphasize the octopus with this vase fairly obviously, as it is the largest subject and most detailed of the piece. I think that a pattern is not specifically followed here, only a sense of balance using the range and shape of the tentacle arms. But the space around this octopus is filled with other sea creatures and plant life that the artist recalled. The only place that I notice a blank space is around the spout of the vase-most likely where the user would have grabbed to hold the vase to pour. This seemed odd considering that the two holding handles have intricate brown line work in no apparent relation to water or sea creatures. Lastly I think that the brown rim at the top of the curve of the vase resembles the surface of the water. Maybe this was their water carrying vase, and the underwater ocean view was a way of telling this vase was for water? Even though this is an ancient piece, it's discernable that perspective and proportion were not quite grasped at this point as the octopuses body is an odd shape other than what we know of today's species. Maybe it was a different kind of species at that point, or a tentacle that is facing straight down? Other than that the eyes of the creature are a bit personified-as it's known that octopus eyes do not actually look like that at all!

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