Vapheio Cups: The Difference Between Minoan Art and Mycenaean Art

Vapheio Cups
Miranda Smith
Southern Utah University
September 2001

Two gold cups were found in a tholos at Vapheio, the region near Sparta in what is today southern Greece. The tholos is believed to be that of a king. These cups are believed by many to be of differing origins, one Minoan and one Mycenaean. However, the cultures are so similar, and the artifacts so alike, that one can be inclined to believe that there is no true difference.

The gold cup on the left in the text is arguably Minoan. This cup depicts a man tying a bull. This appears to be in preparation for sport. The Minoans believed the bull to be sacred, and it seems that bulls were used in many rituals. In addition to the man and the bull, the cup shows trees, earth and clouds. These are all depicted rather naturalistically. They are not quite as big as they would be in nature, and this only adds to the centrality of the bull. The lines are curving and contoured, reminiscent of the Toreador Fresco, which also depicts a bull ritual as its main focus.

On the right, however, is a Mycenaean cup. The portrayed images appear to be Minoan. The images on this cup are obviously contoured, almost the same as the Minoan cup. However, the author argues that the execution in Mycenaean. Rather than expressing the natural setting of the bull (the landscape forms surrounding it) as the Minoan cup, the Mycenaean cup focuses more on the struggle of the captive bull. Indeed, as one looks at the cup on the left, the bull is the largest feature.

Despite some slight differences, it is arguable that there really isn’t too much that is different about these two cups. The one on the right is cruder, but the iconography is the same as Minoan. It would appear that the Minoans had a large amount of influence on the art of the area of ancient Greece. Discoveries at Thera bear striking resemblance to Minoan art as well. While lacking in naturalistic detail (as Egyptian art does as well) the contours of the figures are very similar. Perhaps the Mycenaeans borrowed from the Minoan and Theran traditions. The “Goddess” fresco certainly seems to support this theory.

In conclusion, while the two cups have slightly differing styles, it seems like too much is being made of differing styles. It seems that essentially Minoan and Mycenaean art is the same. The two cups were created the same way: by hammering from the inside and the smoothing the edges. In addition, both have the same iconography. The lack of landscape forms on the one cup hardly seems justification enough to call them two different art forms from two different civilizations.


Laurie Schneider Adams, A History of Western Art (New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 2001).

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