Late Roman to Early Byzantine, ca. 3rd to 6th century CE. Of an enormous scale and finely cast via the cire perdue process, a bronze door knocker depicting a lion's head in high relief, with a hefty ring in its gaping jaws - along with intimidating teeth, fangs, and long, lapping tongue - as well as a curly 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, the artist who made the mold most likely was inspired by lions at the Roman Forum or in an amphitheater local to their area. A wonderful piece, one can almost hear the mighty wild feline roar! Size: 8.625" W x 9.75" H (21.9 cm x 24.8 cm); 12.25" H (31.1 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. That lion's 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.
In Byzantium, the lion was a symbol of wisdom, royalty, power, and leadership. As for its possible Christian context, the lion sometimes represented Jesus Christ in the Byzantine Era, and the winged lion was generally regarded as a symbol for St. John the Evangelist.
Provenance: private Florida, USA collection; ex Sotheby's, New York, USA, December 17, 1996, Lot 313
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