The Aghia Triada Sarcophagus
This beautiful sarcophagus housed in the Heraklion Museum Crete depicts a deceased on the right side with men bringing gifts. Two women on the left hand side pour a libation. A lyre player is shown and at the bottom an aulos player.
The paintings are bright and delicate but at the same time very solemn as they describe the sacrificial ceremonies for the dead prince who once lay in the sarcophagus . Although the colours have faded a little there are stunningly fresh madders, rose pinks and emeralds and there is a sense of movement and life.
The sarcophagus dates from a period long before the building of the great Knossos palace, and is therefore the oldest European painting to have survived. On one of the sides of the sarcophagus a bull tied with brilliant scarlet ropes to an alter has been stabbed. The blood is dripping into a bucket. A priestess blesses the dying bull and the procession moves towards the alter surmounted by the double axe.
The reverse side depicts “the great two handled urn which will receive the blood of sacrifice offered by the priestess. There follows a woman with a strange bird-shaped crown, who carries two baskets over her shoulders, these baskets contain the thighs of the bull, which will be burned perhaps on the steps of the columns crowned with the double axes. Behind this woman comes another, the most stately of all, who plucks at a seven-stringed lyre with a plectrum. From these woman fall rippling banners in the shape of feathers, announcing they are the servants of the goddess represented by the dark bird”.
To the right of the lyre player the scene abruptly changes . Three priests wearing sheepskin skirts are bearing offerings to the dead- two bundled calves and a long curved boat. They are set against a darker background signifying perhaps a journey into the earth, into the darkness which opens out on a sacred grove where another alter stands. In front of this alter, calm ,impassive, stands the lead man, wearing a striped shroud. His feet are hidden. so that he gives the impression of slowly emerging from the darkness at the summons of the priests who come with their offerings.”
At one end of the perfectly balanced panel..is the blood of sacrifice falling into the sacred urn, at the other end…..is the dead man rising in the sacred grove. As the blood is poured, so life flows in the dead. Unmistakenly the panel portrays a resurrection, the long-wished-for return of the young prince who died about 2040 BC”.