"Class Winner, Florence Special Olympics"
Florence, Italy, second half of the 16th century
37.5cm h. ~ Bronze with cracklework glaze
One of the great surprises to budding archeologists and historians is the presence of the Olympics Speciali in Renaissance Italy, particularly in Florence, which, in addition to turning out world renowned painters, sculptors, musicians and architects, also had the highest number of winning athletes in track and field for the developmentally disabled.
One very popular event was the 100-meter snail race. As the trophy shows, giant Indonesian snails were specially imported for the occasion, and the race was unusual in that the finish line moved, not the contestants, so that everyone came in first, as Indonesian snails tend to stay rooted to the spot if any weight is placed on their shell. The greatest danger to the competitors was falling off, so a low-tack hide glue was used to assure that they would stay in place for the duration of the race.
The object once held in the mounted figure’s right hand, now lost, suggests that this trophy may have been for the 100-meter relay race, and the missing object a baton, although scholars continue to argue the question, some suggesting that it may have held a lance and that the actual event was jousting, a sport which remained popular in some parts of Italy long after the invention of firearms rendered its military importance moot. Another theory is that the missing object was a flag on a stick or pole. A lone Israeli scholar contends that the absent device is a large spoon, which the macrocephalic figure was in the process of bending, using pure telekinetic energy. This theory, of course, does not explain the presence of the snail.