Rome, Imperial Period, ca. 3rd century CE. Carved in high relief, a white marble lion's head presenting a dramatic visage with penetrating eyes, a protruding snout, a roaring mouth with gaping jaws, intimidating teeth, and fangs - as well as a wavy, radiate mane with an incised furry coat. The lion was symbolic of power and ferocity, and would also have called to mind fierce gladiatorial fights. What's more, it is quite possible that the sculptor who made this piece was inspired by lions at the Roman Forum or in an amphitheater local to his area. A wonderful piece with a marvelous expression. Just look at those quixotic eyes looking out below that furrowed brow, as well as that roaring mouth! Size: 9" W x 8.75" H (22.9 cm x 22.2 cm); 11.375" H (28.9 cm) on included custom stand.
In the classical world, lions symbolized power, wealth, and might. They were famously featured in many ancient myths, perhaps the most famous being that of Hercules (Herakles) slaying the Nemean lion for his first labor. The lions fur was believed to be impenetrable to attacks since according to legend it was made of gold and its claws were far sharper than swords with the power to slice through armor. In the end, Hercules defeated the lion by strangling it and wore its skin.
Lions were also favorite iconography for buildings, coins, and statues. Examples include the Lion Gate to the Citadel of Mycenae, the Terrace of the Lions on the island of Delos, and the lion hunt mosaic from Pella featuring Alexander engaged in a lion hunt. Of course lions were also used in the Roman arenas where they would fight other animals, such as tigers and bears.
Provenance: private Florida, USA collection; ex Christie's New York, USA, May 30th, 1997, Sale 8684, Lot #162
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