A Given Image: Monsters, Men, and Beasts on Olympia’s Votive Bronze
- Author(s): Turbeville, Kelsey
- Advisor(s): Shelton, Kim
- et al.
In his Periegesis (5.21), Pausanias writes about touring the sanctuary of Olympia. Describing the Altis’ monuments and dedications, he lingers on their appearance, inscriptions, and dedicators. Millennia later, Olympia and its votive gifts continue to draw interest and provoke curiosity. Contemporary scholarship has examined Olympia and other sanctuaries as spaces conceptually distinct from the polis and therefore important loci for elite competition and interaction—particularly in the Archaic period, during the early development of the Greek city-state. Within this framework, scholars have explored the social politics and visual programs of sanctuary architecture and monumental votive gifts; they have paid relatively little attention, however, to other votives of the Archaic period.
The present study focuses on these “standard” dedications—the types of objects that were dedicated repeatedly—and considers their role in the visual culture of the sanctuary. It addresses three distinct sets of votive gifts, all bronzes dedicated at Olympia during the 8th-5th centuries BCE. First, it discusses protome cauldrons, similar in form to the traditional sanctuary cooking implement, but heavily elaborated with attachments representing the heads and necks of mythological creatures. It then explores miniature tripods and figurines, the earliest and most numerous of the Altis’s dedications. Finally, it addresses shields, looted from enemies and set up as victory monuments around the ancient stadium. Although similar votive gifts are found at other sanctuaries, as a group these votives embody traits specific to Olympia: no other sanctuary received either such an extraordinary quantity of bronze, nor nearly as many martial dedications.
In its analysis, this study draws on a variety of disciplines, including cultural anthropology, art history, and psychology, with a view towards reaching a contextually embedded understanding of the dedications and their visual programs. It highlights points of contact between these very different types of gifts, including geographical allusions and what has been called “defunctionalization.” It explores the many ways in which the votives’ composition and iconography influenced and commented upon the sanctuary space, and how they themselves interacted with and impacted their viewers.