Saturday, 1 August 2009

Link of the Day: Evans, Knossos and Modernism

Primary version of this post at Barry Stocker's Weblog, with image of De Chirico, not just the link.

Image is of Giorgio di Chirico’s painting, Ariadne (1913).

I’m linking to a review article by Mary Beard in the New York Review of Books, Knossos: Fakes, Facts, and Mystery of Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism by Cathy Gere.

Beard is a Cambridge Classics Professor and is very familiar to a non-academic audience as a media classicist. The review article draws both on Gere’s book and other sources, in an account of how Arthur Evans’ reconstruction of the ancient Cretan palace of Knossos (in modern Heraklion) drew on, and influenced ideas and aesthetic movements, of the time. Evans excavated Knossos in the first few years of the 20th Century, but what is seen there now is to a large degree the result of what Evans described as ‘reconstitution’. That is buildings and murals were constructed by Evans to look like what he thought the palace and its decorations should have been. The ‘reconstructed’ palace was the first reinforced concrete building in Crete. In some ways Evans was just a faker who allowed his personal obsessions to determine his reconstruction and his interpretation in The Palace of Minos. Beard introduces three partial defences for Evans: he anticipated recent work on the mixture of Mediterranean cultures in his largely falsified claim that the Cretans were non-Greeks who came from North Africa commanding black African soldiers; some of his speculations appear to be confirmed by recent evidence; his invention of Minoan buildings and decorations as Knossos and a whole Minoan culture and history has its creative imaginative force which had an influence on early 20 Century art and design. The way Evans imagined Minoan building and visual culture was itself condition by Modernist/Modern Movement art and design, and had a powerful impact on the movement in turn. The image above of De Chirico’s painting Ariadne is an example.

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