The first marble sculptures, the first palaces in Europe

In the Bronze Age (3rd–2nd millennium BC) three great cultures evolved in the Aegean region: the Cycladic, the Minoan, and the Mycenaean.

The first marble sculptures in European art were created on the islands of the Cyclades in the 3rd millennium BC (1–2). Based on their shapes, these Cycladic figures are easy to distinguish from the type widespread in contemporary Asia Minor (3–5).

The first European palaces were built in Crete, and later on the Greek mainland in the early 2nd millennium. Fragments of storage jars sometimes as large as a man (6–8) attest to the wealth accumulated in Cretan palaces, where storerooms often contained several hundreds of these jars holding food, mostly grain.

Both the Cretan or Minoan culture, which was created by an unknown people, and the Greek-speaking Mycenaean culture had widespread contacts, especially in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. For instance, the chief Mycenaean vessel types were produced not only in the Greek mainland (9), but also in Cyprus (10–11) and in Egypt (12).

The influence of Mycenaean terracotta sculpture was felt across a large area from Italy to Asia Minor. The reclining couple (13) is a unique piece perhaps representing a sacred marriage; the other statuettes (14–17) belong to common series. Human figures could equally depict deities and the people who worshipped them.