Brief IdentificationEditThis bronze figurine is an acrobat jumping over a bull. This bull-leaping is a very common theme in Minoan art. It was made somewhere between 1700-1450 BCE. The sculpture is pretty small. It is about 4 inches tall, 2 inches wide and 6 inches long. It was found near Rethymnon in Crete. The Minoans lived in Crete, Greece during the Bronze Age (3000-1100 BCE).The Minoans got their name from the legendary ruler King Minos of Knossos.
This figure was made of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. Since it is one solid piece, it is likely that the artist used the lost wax technique. A clay model is first made and then it is covered in wax to the final desired size of the object. A mold is then made around the wax. The wax is then heated out of the mold and the mold hardens so the metal can be poured in. Melted bronze is then poured into this mold and cooled. The mold is removed and the bronze figure is cleaned.
In order to make this figurine just one piece the acrobat was connected by his feet and hair to the bull. The hair is pulled together in what looks like pigtails to make the attachment to the bull on top of the bull's head [see Evans, 1921, 249]. The feet are attached to the bull's lower back. The acrobat's arms are stumped off. It is unclear if this was intentional to make the piece simpler or if the bronze just did not flow completely throughout the mold. Minoan bronze was typically low on tin, which does make it harder for the bronze to flow well. This lack of fluidity of the bronze could explain why the acrobat's legs are also missing. The surface of the figurine is rough and some features are not very defined. When the figure was cast it was clear that the process of bronze casting was very advanced but the casting of acrobat and the bull as one piece could be considered a tour de force of the metal-worker [see Evans, 1921, 248-249].
The figurine is currently at the British Muesem and part of the Spencer Churchill collection.
Local Historical ContextEdit
The Minoans were the people on the island of Crete in the Aegean Sea during the Bronze Age. This was the first sophisticated society in the Aegean. It was known for its great cities and palaces and its use of writing. It had extended trade contacts throughout the Levant and beyond. During the 18th and 17th centuries BCE the palaces at Knossos and Mallia were damaged. It it not clear if natural disaster, internal warfare, or invasion caused the damage. The palace at Phaistos was destroyed by fire. These palaces were rebuilt and were more exquisite than before. The society peaked around 1600 BCE and Minoan influence started spreading to the Myceans on the surrounding islands and mainland Greece.The bull, bull-leaping and other activities with bulls are very common in Minoan art. They are seen on Minoan seals, pottery, frescoes, bronze and ivory sculptures. The "flying gallop" pose is very characteristic of bulls in art. There are frescoes depicting bull-leaping that were found at the the palace of Knossos and at Tiryns that have this characteristic position of the bulls [see Evans, 1921, 250]. The most famous fresco is one from Knossos (see picture). This bull-leaping is very different from bull-grappling, which is the capture of wild or half-wild bulls by trained "cowboys [see Evans, 1921, 255]. In the Journal of Hellenistic Studies Arthur Evans said that the frescoes found in Knossos clearly showed bull-leaping being performed in sight of the great Minoan Goddess's pillar shrine [see Evans, 1921, 255] This would mean that the Minoans performed bull-leaping in religious rituals or possibly rites of passage. Bulls seem to have been a very sacred animal to the Minoans. There are depictions of bull horn crowns at many palaces. Bulls and bull horns could have been involved in sacrifices [see Marinatos, 1993, 64]. It is unclear as to what this bronze figurine was used for. Evans calls it a votive piece [see Evans, 1921, 247]. This means that it could have been an offering to the Goddess or used in some sort of ritual.
It is thought today that the seals, sculptures and frescoes depicting bull-leaping do not show exactly how it was done. Many show the acrobat grabbing the bull by the horns and then bull then flings its head back, flipping the person over its back. It seems nearly impossible for a person to grab a charging bull by the horns, flip over its back and land on his feet [minoan religion]. The artists of these objects morely likely took artistic liberty in depicting these very acrobatic feats. They mostly likely wanted to show how humans could dominate over such a powerful animal and outwit it [see Marinates, 1993, 218-219].
Minoan society was the first high European civilization.The Minoans had very good trade connections with the other people of the Mediterranean, like the Phonecians and the Hittites,and further east. Bronze Age pottery has been found in Egypt and Egyptian objects have also been found on Crete. Since the island of Crete did not have a lot of resources the Minoans had to be good traders and needed to be able to use the Aegean Sea to help them. There are not a lot of metal ores found on the island so metalworking most likely came from the east.The Minoans were a big force in the Aegean. Their cultural influence was found on surrounding islands and on the mainland of Greece. The Minoan civilization that created this bronze figure was conquered around 1450 BCE by people from mainland Greece. Everything was destroyed except the palace at Knossos, which the invaders made their capital.
It is highly likely that this figure did have some sort of religious purpose. There a lot of societies that use animals as symbols in religion. Also, many people have to make offering to appease their god(s) or goddess(es). There were a couple Creten goddesses that were transmitted to the mainland of Greece.
Evans, Arthur. "On a Minoan bronze group of a galloping bull and acrobatic figure from Crete." Journal of Hellenic studies 41, (1921): 247-259.
Marinatos, Nanno. Minoan Religion. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.
Younger, John G. "Bronze Age Representations of Aegean Bull-Leaping," American Journal of Archaeology 80.2 (1976): 125-137 accessed April 19, 2011 http://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/dspace/handle/1808/5291
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Merriam-webster, “Votive” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/votive