The Orientalizing phenomenon of c. 700 – 600 BCE manifested itself in a vast area of the preclassical Mediterranean stretching from the Levant to Iberia. Its profound impact on material and visual cultures in Mediterranean regions has been amply documented in the rich archaeological record of artifacts, iconographies, and styles originating in the Near East or inspired by its traditions.
My project explores the variegated modes of response to the novelty of Orientalizing, giving special attention to the role of sumptuous artifacts in the creation of new techniques of seeing. My focus is on the so-called Orientalizing cauldrons that were the artifacts par excellence of the new era. These costly and technically intricate bronze vessels from the late eighth century BCE onward were decorated with griffin and lion protomes and human-headed birds, or sirens, in various combinations. In Anatolia and what is now Italy, these objects were exclusive to princes and kings, who used them in status-constructing rituals such as banquets and deposited them in fabulously lavish tombs. In Greece, by contrast, large numbers of griffin cauldrons have been documented in the great sanctuaries, most notably at Samos, Olympia, and Delphi. In these sacred spaces they would certainly have been treated as divine possessions, which probably fulfilled multiple functions. The contribution of their unprecedented figurative ebullience to the otherworldly ambience of the sanctuaries cannot be emphasized enough. The cauldrons enshrined a new aesthetic of rare sensory experiences that redefined the psychological dimensions of contact with the gods. But what was it that these powerful objects radiated outward to their viewers, whether human or divine?