Height: 23.400 cm
Width: 2.700 cm (central plaque)
Weight: 265.000 g (total)
Room 13: Greece 1050-520 BC
Bronze griffin head
Greek, Orientalizing period, around 650 BC
Probably made in Rhodes, Aegean Sea
A monster perhaps intended to scare evil spirits away from the wine it guarded
This hollow-cast griffin head was originally attached to the shoulder of a large bronze bowl. Such attachments were decorative rather than functional, though griffins were no doubt thought to have apotropaic qualities (the ability to turn away evil). This example is beautifully made, with neat borders around the ears, mouth and eyes, and every scale carefully delineated.
Bronze bowls on stands of a distinctive type, decorated with protomes or attached heads of griffins, lions, bulls or sphinxes, came into the Greek world from the east, perhaps from more than one centre of manufacture in the region of Urartu (modern Armenia) or northern Syria. They were an important element in the Orientalizing Period of Greek art - the time during the seventh century BC when Greek craftsmen took revitalizing inspiration from the east. They travelled as far westwards as Italy, and both imports and imitations were widely spread. Pottery versions were also made.
The way that the griffin was adopted and adapted by Greek artists is typical of the Orientalizing movement. Griffins of various types were found in Near Eastern art, but in Greece a distinctively Greek type evolved, with a lion's body, eagle's beak, hare's ears and a knob or spike on the brow.
N. Coldstream, Geometric Greece (London, E. Benn, 1977)
L. Burn, The British Museum book of Gre (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)