Dolphins from the Minoan palace at
Knossos (Crete, 1500 BC)
Even though historians like Thucydides tell us that people in Ancient Greece painted pictures from the Bronze Age through to the Roman conquest and beyond, most of these pictures have been destroyed. In fact, more of the older paintings survived than the more recent ones. This is because some of the Bronze Age paintings were buried by volcanoes and others were buried by earthquakes. So they were not destroyed and archaeologists were able to dig them up. The few later paintings that survive were painted on the walls of tombs, underground, and that is how they survived safely.
The earliest Greek paintings we have are from the Minoan culture on the island of Crete. They were fresco paintings on the walls of palaces where the rulers of Crete lived, around 1700-1400 BC, and when the Myceneans destroyed the palaces around 1400 BC, some of the pictures survived buried under the ruins of the palaces.
A wall painting of plants from Thera, about 1600 BC
Another set of pictures, about the same time, comes from the island of Thera (also called Santorini), in the middle of the Aegean between Crete and Greece. A huge volcanic eruption buried the main city on Thera, Akrotiri, around 1600 BC, and these paintings were buried too.
Do you see, again, the interest in landscape and plant forms which was so important on Crete? Maybe the people of Akrotiri admired the powerful Cretans and wanted their art to look like the art on Crete.
Mycenaean fresco of a woman
We also have some Bronze Age paintings from the palaces of the Mycenean kings in mainland Greece. These also seem to be imitating the Minoan paintings, but they are stiffer and quieter, with less movement. We see the same stiffness on Mycenaean pottery from the same time.
To find out more about Greek painting, check out these books from Amazon or from your library:
Ancient Greek Art, by Susie Hodge (1998)- for kids ages 9-12.
Greek Art and Archaeology (3rd Edition), by John G. Pedley (2002) This is NOT a children's book, but it has a lot of good information and is pretty readable. Plus, the author is really an expert in this field.
Ancient Greek Painting and its Echoes in Later Art, by Massimiliano David (2004) - also not for kids. Interesting analysis of the influence of Greek art on later European painters.