Archaic Bronze Recumbant Lion
Period: middle of the 6th century B.C.
Dimensions: H: 6 cm
Ex-European private Collection, acquired in 1997.
All four animals are in an excellent state of preservation and the surface of the metal is covered by a beautiful green patina. The lions were cast using the lost wax process and are hollow. The interior was then filled with lead, to optimally attach the ornaments to their support and solidify the walls of the bronze, avoiding the formation of crevices. Sizes, shapes, attitudes and style are very similar and these four pieces can be considered as products coming from the same workshop.
The cats are represented reclining, with their hindquarters drawn and forelegs extended to the front; their head is turned to the right and the tail held erect, on the rump. The prominent muzzle shows many anatomical details, clearly expressed by engravings and carvings (mouth, jowls, nose, eyes, ears). The mane, which frames the muzzle, is composed of a circular part in relief rendered by simple vertical lines, while behind the nape and on the neck, the locks are indicated by regular and elegant incisions in the shape of flames. On the other hand, the rest of the body is rather cursorely modeled, with only few well shaped or incised parts; the upper rear legs are in very high relief, the front legs have nearly angular edges.
Such statuettes adorned, mostly in the Archaic period, the large bronze vessels which served as tableware at symposia (banquets). After their use in everyday life, these luxury vases could be either dedicated in a sanctuary or taken into the grave by their owner. Such is the case, for instance, of the large dinos (a vase used for mixing wine and water) found at Hochdorf near Stuttgart, in a princely tomb containing a very rich furniture. This very famous vase would have been manufactured in the Greek world, and then exported and sold north of the Alps.
Other small bronze lions could adorn the handles of hydrias (vessels used for carrying water), tripods, dishes and, especially in Etruria, the edges of basins (foculi). The head turned to the right as well as the flat and even shape of the lower edge indicate that these four examples would decorate the upper part of a dinos, now lost, of the same type as the one excavated in Hochdorf. Renowned contemporary private collections house or have housed similar pieces, like the G. Ortiz collection (the piece was formerly in the the Simkhovitch collection) or the Bernoulli collection.
These large bronze vases were certainly produced in various centers of the ancient Greek world: in eastern Greece, mainland Greece (mostly in the Peloponnese), Magna Graecia, and in Sicily as well as Etruria.
Stylistically, thanks to the researches of H. Gabelmann, these statuettes can be attributed to a Peloponnesian workshop, probably active in Corinth around the mid 6th century B.C.: the proportions, the plastic shapes, the structure of the mane, the position of the tail are all elements that enable us to suggest such an hypothesis. The city of the isthmus is known already in the previous century for its production of bronze vessels exported to a number of other regions.
On bronze vessel:
GAUER W., Die Bronzegefässe von Olympia, Berlin, 1991 (for lions statuettes, see pl. 9-11).
ROLLEY C., Les bronzes grecs, Fribourg, 1983, pp. 132-142.
Some parallels in:
GABELMANN H., Studien zum frühgriechischen Löwenbild, 1965, p. 66-69, pl. 9.
In the Pursuit of the Absolute, Art of the Ancient World, The G. Ortiz Collection, Bern, 1996, n. 109.
PAYNE H., Perachora, The Sanctuaries of Hera Akraia and Limenia, Oxford, 1940, pp. 136-137, pl. 43, 8-9.
On the Hochdorf Tomb, see:
Trésors des princes Celtes, Paris, 1985, pp. 155-159, pp. 178-179, n. 92.