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.
- Ancient Greek
- Pair of Protomes Depicting the Forepart of a Griffin
- 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.)
- Katherine K. Adler Memorial Fund