Image, ritual, and performance in neopalatial Crete : a re-examination of a late Minoan sealstone
Can an image "perform" as a means of conveying a particular message? Would a viewer have recognized the performance embedded in the iconography of the scene? These questions serve as a basis for my examination of a Late Minoan sealstone housed in the Benaki Museum in Athens (Inv. No. 1517, Diam. 2.5-2.65 cm.). The sealstone dates between the Late Minoan I and II periods (1600-1430/25 BCE) and its engraved image is of a male figure atop an incurved object, flanked by two creatures. The traditional identification of this scene is that of a representation of a male divinity or "Master of Animals". I expand beyond this basic reading of the image as an iconic rendering of a male divinity and explore not only the function of the seal and its material as social indicators, but also conduct an iconographic analysis in order to better understand how one was intended to read the message the image is intending to convey. In this thesis I argue that this "message" is essentially a reference to rituals associated with the initiation of male youths, which may have included performances of dance. The scene also serves as a kind of stage for the performance of the youth, who personifies those qualities and ideals embodied by initiates who took part in these rites of passage.