Minoan culture flourished on the island of Crete in the Aegaean between 2500 and 1400 B.C., when it was destroyed abruptly. Explanations for this destruction range from a volcanic cataclysm to invasion by their neighbors, possibly the Mycenaeans (Biers 17). During that time, however, the inhabitants of Crete produced a body of art which both stands as a foreshadowing of the Greek masterpieces which were to come, and which also stands on its own merits as a creative achievement. Minoan art is characterized by a concern with naturalism, which makes it the first European society to use art to depict the world around them in a passionate and impressionistic manner. Minoan subjects are rendered with grace and extreme delicacy, and tend to be decorated with vivid colors and set off by geometric shapes.
Perhaps one of the most celebrated examples of late Minoan art is the fresco fragment which has become known as La Parisienne.
It depicts a young woman, in profile, clad in the sheer dress of the time, with what may be a slight smile on her face. Dating from around 1500 B.C. and unearthed at the palace at Knossos, it is remarkable for its state of preservation (Bahn 91). The skin is a delicate pink, the lips fiery red, and the features delicately and gracefully rendered. It represents a classic example of the naturalism of Cretan art of the period, and is one of the few surviving frescoes of the time depicting the human face (Higgins 95).
This oneness with and reverence for nature is also depicted quite excellently in the so-called "Toreador" fresco, also from the place at Knossos (Biers 47). In it, young men are displaying their daring and athleticism in a traditional encounter with a bull (Bahn 79). In a display which was also popular in the later Greek culture, a young man would charge directly at a bull and seize it by the horns. As the bull tossed its head in an attempt to gore the youth, he would somersault over its head, often vaulting off the animal's back, and land on his feet behind it (Bahn 80)