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Pair of Protomes Depicting the Forepart of a Griffin

A work made of bronze with bone or ivory inlay.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of bronze with bone or ivory inlay.


625-575 BCE


Greek; probably Samos

About this artwork

The great holy sites of ancient Greece, such as the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia and the Heraion of Samos, functioned as repositories for gifts brought by believers seeking divine favor. The most impressive of these offerings were large bronze cauldrons, which were set on a conical stand or tripod base and embellished with cast-bronze attachments like these two griffins. These beasts, facing outward, would have been fastened to the vessel by means of the rivets still present on their collars. This hollow-cast pair is remarkable for the superb quality of their craftsmanship, their condition, and their partially preserved inlaid eyes.

A mythical creature revered for its protective powers, the griffin combined a feline body, an avian head, and tall, horse-like ears. It has been argued that the beaked Protoceratops that once roamed Central Asia were the iconographic inspiration for these ferocious beasts. Travelers may have seen the fantastic fossilized remains of the dinosaurs and then created stories to account for them. Meanwhile, local inhabitants may have spread tales about their ferocity as a way to discourage marauders from looting their wealth. These two griffins are highly agitated; their mouths are agape and their tongues curl up as they screech bloodcurdling warnings.


On View, Gallery 151


Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean and Byzantium


Ancient Greek


Pair of Protomes Depicting the Forepart of a Griffin


Sámos (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

625 BCE–575 BCE


Bronze with bone or ivory inlay


1: 20.3 × 7.6 × 7.6 cm (8 × 3 × 3 in.); 2: 21.6 × 8.3 × 7 cm (8 1/2 × 3 1/4 × 2 3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Katherine K. Adler Memorial Fund

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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