Minoan bull leaper

Crete, Minoan, about 1700-1450 BC

Minoan bull leaper

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A difficult and dangerous acrobatic feat, bull-leaping is frequently shown in Minoan art, and probably formed a part of ritual activity. The strength and potency of bulls perhaps lay behind their religious importance to the Minoans.


Different leaps are represented. In this version the leaper is somersaulting over the bull's head and landing with both feet on its back.

The sculptor has cleverly supported the acrobat by allowing his long hair to trail onto the bull's forehead. The group is solid cast, in one piece, using the lost wax technique. The arms are not represented, but end in stumps: it is not clear whether this was by design or because the bronze did not flow into the extremities of the mould. Equally, the loss of the lower legs may have been due to a casting fault. Minoan bronzes tended to be poor in tin, which meant the alloy did not flow well, and also gave a characteristic bubbly surface.

Are such leaps possible?

It seems highly unlikely that an acrobat could grasp a bull's horns and use the toss of its head to flip over onto its back, because of the unpredictability of the bull's movements.

Perhaps in reality the bulls were restrained or even tamed. Certainly some Minoan representations show bulls being captured, tethered and led, as well as apparently being held by the horns.

It is probable that the Minoans put considerable effort and long experience into the sport, and were able to achieve dramatic effects. Even so, the possibility of some artistic licence in the representations should not be discounted.


The Minoans

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This civilisation flourished on the island of Crete during the Bronze Age, between about 3000 and 1100 BC. It was a culture characterised by the dominance of great palaces.
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Object details

Height: 11.1 cm
Width: 4.7 cm
Depth: 15 cm

 

GR 1966.3-28.1

Room 12: Minoan and Mycenaean

     

    Spencer Churchill Collection

    References

    A.J. Evans, On a Minoan Bronze Group of a Galloping Bull and Acrobatic Figure from Crete. With Glyptic Comparisons and a Note on the Oxford Relief Showing the Taurokathapsia (Journal of Hellenic Studies 41 (2): 247-259, 1921)

    J. L. Fitton, Minoans (London, The British Museum Press 2002)

    R. Higgins, Minoan and Mycenaean Art, New Revised Edition (London, Thames & Hudson 1997)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    O. Dickenson, The Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge, 1994)

    C. Shelmerdine (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge, 2008)

    J. Younger, Bronze Age Representations of Aegean Bull-Games. Aegaeum 12 (1995), 507–46.