“Young Girl Gathering Saffron Crocus Flowers” (pre-1630 BCE) is a detail of a larger wall painting from a residence in Akrotiri, a port city on the Cycladic Island of Thera. Found in a room dedicated to the initiation rites of young women, this painting is remarkable not only for its beautiful subject matter but for what it communicates about this ancient civilization.
In the painting we see a young girl in the traditional Minoan flounced dress picking saffron crocus flowers. The flowers were used for paint and seasoning, but also to alleviate menstrual cramps, indicating a possible use in women’s initiation rites. The girl is clearly on the verge of womanhood, as the regrowth of her shorn hair, a vestige of Cycladic childhood, indicates.
Besides what we learn of the rituals and day-to-day Cycladic life, we also sense a freedom and freshness to these representations that is absent from neighboring cultures of the same time period, most notably the artwork of the Egyptians. While the Egyptians practiced a strict regime of organization that filtered down even to their smallest portraits, Minoan and Cycladic artwork of this time embodies a free-flowing style infused with life and vigor. In conjunction with their labyrinthine palaces, the culture seems devoted not to overly-regimented discipline, but to a liberating celebration of life and all the wonder it has to offer.