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Bronze Group of a Bull and Acrobat

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Bronze Group of a Bull and Acrobat
  • Description

    Bronze group of an acrobat somersaulting over a bull's head. 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.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1600BC-1450BC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 15.5 centimetres
    • Height: 11.4 centimetres
    • Width: 4.7 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    This bronze group was bought in 1921 by Capt. Spencer-Churchill, a noted collector of bronzes whose collection was dispersed after his death in 1964. The entry in his register (no. 218) states that it was: ‘Acquired in Rethymno where it was probably excavated’. It is possible that it was originally deposited at a rural sanctuary in the Rethymnon area, but its findspot is unknown.

    It was published by Sir Arthur Evans, excavator of Knossos, in the Journal of Hellenic Studies (see below). He dated it to the Late Minoan I period, around 1600 BC, and compared it to an ivory bull-leaper found at Knossos, now in Heraklion Museum. Without the accompanying bull, however, it is difficult to know if this is a close parallel: the bronze group is the only known complete sculpture of bull-leaping (with the possible exception of earlier zoomorphic clay vessels of cattle with human figurines clinging on to their horns). A number of bronze human figurines have been found at Minoan peak sanctuaries, and naturalistic bronze goat depictions from Ayia Triada: these provide comparable examples of bronzeworking from the Neopalatial period.

    The group was exhibited in the 1936 exhibition of ‘British Archaeological Discoveries in Crete and Greece 1886-1936’ held at the Royal Academy to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the British School at Athens. It was again on display in 1946, at the Royal Academy exhibition of Greek Art, where the Sunday Graphic declared it to be ‘the loveliest thing to be seen in London this week’.

    Much has been written about the practice of bull-leaping since Arthur Evans discussed the depictions he found at Knossos both in terms of Minoan religion (he thought that bull-leaping events were staged to honour the Minoan Goddess) and the practicalities of the event. Indeed Evans discusses bull-leaping both in terms of the later Thessalian ‘taurokathapsia’, Spanish bull-fighting and modern-day rodeos. It has been argued that bull-leaping events took place in the central courts of Minoan palaces, but no convincing evidence has been found. More recently scholars, notably John Younger, have seen bull-leaping as part of a longer sequence of activities involving rounding up cattle, leaping, and possibly sacrifice. Another approach, including Nanno Marinatos’s work, has been to look at the potential symbolism of bull-leaping. Others have seen bull-leaping as an extension of the relationship between people and domestic cattle in Crete.

    Bibliography (references in brackets refer to this object)

    Attenborough, D. 1987. The First Eden: The Mediterranean World and Man. London: Guild Publishing. (p. 103).

    Bietak, M., Marinatos, N. and Palivou, C. 2007. Taureador Scenes in Tell El-Dab'a (Avaris) and Knossos. Denkschriften der Gesamtakademie 43. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

    Craddock, P. 1976. The Composition of the Copper Alloys used by the Greek, Etruscan and Roman civilizations 1. The Greeks before the Archaic Period, Journal of Archaeological Science 3 (2), 93-113. (p.99, 106)

    Damiani Indelicato, S. 1988. Were Cretan Girls Playing at Bull-Leaping? Cretan Studies 1: 39-47.

    Evans, A. J. 1921. 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.

    Evans, A. J. 1928. The Palace of Minos At Knossos, II. London: Macmillan. (p. 650-1, fig. 416)

    Evans, A. J. 1930. The Palace of Minos at Knossos, III. London: Macmillan. (p. 220-222, fig. 155)

    Evans, J.D. 1963. Cretan Cattle-Cults and Sports, in A. Mourant and F. Zeuner (eds.) Man and Cattle: Proceedings of a Symposium on Domestication at the Royal Anthropological Institute 24-26 May. London: Royal Anthropological Institute, p. 138-143

    Fitton, J.L. 2002. Minoans. London: British Museum Press. (p. 154-155, fig. 84)

    Graham, J. W. 1957. The Central Court as the Minoan Bull-Ring. American Journal of Archaeology 61 (3): 255-262.

    Hall, HR. 1928. The Civilization of Greece in the Bronze Age. London: Methuen (p. 172, fig. 221-222)

    Higgins, R. 1967. Recent Acquisitions by the British Museum. Archaeological Reports 13, 47-52 (p. 49, fig. 11)

    Higgins, R. 1967. Minoan and Mycenaean Art. London: Thames and Hudson. (p. 136, frontispiece)

    Higgins, R. 1970. The Greek Bronze Age. London: British Museum Press. (p. 17, pl. 4C)

    Hood, S. 1978. The Arts in Prehistoric Greece. Harmondsworth: Penguin. (p. 113, fig. 97B)

    Hutchinson, R.W. 1962. Prehistoric Crete. Harmondsworth: Penguin. (p. 265, pl. 16)

    Lamb, W. 1929. Greek and Roman Bronzes. London: Methuen. (no. 18, p. 27, pl. 6)

    Long, C. R. 1974. The Ayia Triadha Sarcophagus, a Study of Late Minoan and Mycenean Funerary Practices and Beliefs. SIMA 41. Göteborg: Paul Åströms Förlag. (p. 47, fig. 66)

    Loughlin, E. 2004. Grasping the Bull by the Horns: Minoan Bull Sport, in S. Bell and G. Davies (eds.) Games and Festivals in Classical Antiquity. Proceedings of the Conference held in Edinburgh 10-12 July 2000. BAR IS 1220. Oxford: Archaeopress, 1-8.

    Marinatos, N. 1989. The Bull as an Adversary: Some Observations on Bull-Hunting and Bull-Leaping. Ariadne 5: 23-32.

    Marinatos, N. 1994. The 'Export' Significance of Minoan Bull Hunting and Bull Leaping Scenes. Ägypten und Levante 4: 89-93.

    Myres, J. 1936. British Archaeological Discoveries in Greece and Crete 1886-1936. Catalogue of the Exhibition Arranged to Commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the British School at Athens. London: Royal Academy of Arts. (p. 9, 17)

    Pendlebury, J.D.S. 1939. The Archaeology of Crete: An Introduction. London: Methuen (p. 217)

    Pilali-Papasteriou, A. 1985. Die bronzenen Tierfiguren aus Kreta. Prähistorische Bronzefunde 1, 3. Munich: Beck'sche. (no. 244, p. 97)

    Pinsent, J. 1983. Bull-Leaping, in O. Krzyszkowska and L. Nixon (eds.) Minoan Society: Proceedings of the Cambridge Colloquium 1981. Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 259-271.

    Sakellariou, A. 1958. Les Cachets Minoens de la Collection Giamalakis. Études crétoises 10. Athens: École française d'Athènes. (no. I.24, p. 86)

    Sapouna-Sakellarakis, E. 1995. Die bronzenen Menschenfiguren auf Kreta und in der Ägäis. Prähistorische Bronzefunde 1, 5. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner. (no. 138, p.79-80, pl. 6)

    Shapland, A. 2010. Wild Nature? Human-animal Relations on Neopalatial Crete. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 20:1, 109-127.

    Shapland, A. 2013. Jumping to conclusions: bull-leaping in Minoan Crete, Society and Animals 21: 194-207

    Shaw, M. C. 1995. Bull Leaping Frescoes at Knossos and their Influence on the Tell el Dab'a Murals. Ägypten und Levante 5: 91-120.

    Vanschoonwinkel, J. 1996. Les animaux dans l'art minoen, in D. S. Reese (ed.) Pleistocene and Holocene Fauna of Crete and Its First Settlers. Monographs in World Archaeology 28. Madison: Prehistory Press, 351-412. (no. 184, p. 385)

    Verlinden, C. 1984. Les Statuettes Anthropomorphes Crétoises en bronze et en plomb, du IIIe millénaire au VIIe siècle av. J.-C.. Archaeologia Transatlantica IV. Louvain: College Erasme. (no. 29, p. 81, 91-92, pl. 13)

    Ward, A. 1968. The Cretan Bull Sports. Antiquity 42: 117-122.

    Younger, J. G. 1976. Bronze Age Representations of Bull-Leaping. American Journal of Archaeology 80 (2): 125-137. (no. I.6, p. 127-8, fig. 3)

    Younger, J. G. 1983. A New Look at Minoan Bull-Leaping. Muse 17: 72-80.

    Younger, J. G. 1995. Bronze Age Representations of Aegean Bull-Games, III, in R. Laffineur and W.-D. Niemeier (eds.) POLITEIA. Society and State in the Aegean Bronze Age, II. Aegaeum 12. Liège and Austin: Université de Liège and University of Texas at Austin, 507-545.

    Zeimbekis, M. 2006. Grappling with the Bull: A Reappraisal of Bull and Cattle-Related Ritual in Minoan Crete, in A. Karetsou (ed.) Pepragmena tou Θ' Diethnous Kritologikou Synedriou, A2. Heraklion: Etaira Kritikon Istorikon Meleton, 27-44.

    See also:


  • Bibliography

    • MacGregor 2010, pp.111-116 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G12/dc1

  • Exhibition history

    Exhibited: 1977, London, BM, Animals in Art 2008-2009, 18 Nov-15 Mar, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 'Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C.' 2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
    2015 18 Apr–28 Jun, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
    2015 14 Jul–6 Sep, Kyushu National Museum, Dazaifu, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
    2015-2016 20 Sep-11 Jan, Kobe City Museum, Kobe, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Greek & Roman Antiquities

  • Registration number


  • Joined objects


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