Archaic bronze statuette of recumbent votive lion, Laconian
Period: Middle of the 6th century B.C.
Dimensions: 4.8 cm by 8.3 cm long
Private European Collection
Sotheby’s London, July 8, 1991, lot 266
Intact statuette in excellent state of preservation. Surface covered with a regular, beautiful green patina. The lion was cast using the lost-wax process: the hollow interior was then filled with lead, perhaps to make the metal less fragile and avoid the formation of cracks, or for better stability of the statuette on its support.
The wild cat is represented seated, his hind legs bent and clearly visible on the sides, while his forelegs are extended. The stiff tail curls around his hindquarters, ending in a tuft of fur. The neck and the head are positioned on the same axis as the body, and the lion’s gaze is directed straight ahead, contrary to most related figurines in which it turns to the right.
The naturalistic posture of the animal contrasts with its artistic style, which is characterized by a strong stylization and a certain formal naivety: the body is small and thin, the neck is a large cylinder without modeling, the paws are geometric and stiff , and the cylindrical, prominent muzzle is framed by the wide circular border of the mane. The incised details are executed in a very decorative, precise and symmetrical manner – especially the locks of the mane, the chops and the brows -, but they do not really merge with the body of the lion.
In the Archaic Period, such statuettes ornamented the large bronze vessels that were used during the symposia (banquets). After serving their original daily purposes, these luxury vessels were often dedicated in a sanctuary or deposited in a tomb by their owners. That was the case, for example, for the grand dinos found at Hochdorf, near Stuttgart, in a richly appointed princely tomb, and for the famous krater from Vix. Other small bronze lions can be seen decorating the handles of hydriai, tripods, plates or the edges of foculi (basins).
These large bronze vases were certainly produced in many centers of the Ancient Greek world: in Eastern Greece, in Continental Greece (mostly in the Peloponnese), in the Western Greek colonies, in Magna Graecia, as well as in Etruria. Stylistically, this example can be linked to the lions attributed to Laconian workshops from the first half of the 6th century B.C.
On small lions and bronze vases, see: GABELMANN H., Studien zum frühgriechischen Löwenbild, Berlin, 1965.
GAUER W., Die Bronzegefässe von Olympia, Berlin, 1991. For related examples, see:
STIBBE C. M., The Sons of Hephaistos, Aspects of the Archaic Greek Bronze Industry, Rome, 2000, pp. 115-121. Trésors des princes celtes, Paris, 1988, pp. 156-157.
VON BOTHMER D., Glories of the Past, Ancient Art from the S. White and L. Levy Collection, Mainz/Rhine, 1990, p. 104, no. 84.