Height: 3.000 cm
Width: 2.100 cm
GR 1906.11-12.78 (Paintings 2)
Room 12: Minoan and Mycenaean
Fragment of painted plaster from a bull-jumping fresco
Minoan, about 1450-1375 BC
From Knossos, Crete
A tantalising puzzle-piece
At the time of its destruction in about 1375 BC, the interior of the palace at Knossos was richly decorated with wall-paintings. Many fragments were found by the excavator Arthur Evans, either still adhering to the walls or fallen from them. Most are in the Herakleion Museum, but Evans gave this single small fragment to the British Museum in 1906.
The fragment comes from a group of miniature frescoes depicting bull-sports. At first glance it is difficult to make this out, but comparison with more complete examples shows that the thighs of an acrobat are represented. The striped edge of a Minoan kilt is wrapped round the left thigh, and the edge of the flap that covered the figure's buttocks can be seen at the back.
The flesh of the figure is painted white. Minoan wall-paintings usually seem to follow the convention (familiar from Egyptian art) where male flesh is brown and female white, and this has led to the conclusion that some of the bull-jumping acrobats are female, though they wear masculine dress. It is also possible that age is indicated by skin tone, with very young males shown in a pale colour.