Greek Gold Bracelets with Lion-Head Finials
Period: Classical Period, 4th century B.C.
Dimensions: D. 8.8cm
Ex American private collection; acquired in 2003
The plain, thick hoops of these bracelets, most likely reinforced with a bronze core, taper gradually toward the finials, terminating without any visible join in solid lion heads. Facing each other, these heads possess a dramatic sculptural quality. The faces are fierce and quite naturalistic, with a ferocious expression that is emphasized by bulbous eyes, expressive nostrils, and wide-open mouths. The whiskers are suggested by tiny dots, while details of the manes are indicated more schematically than realistically by engraved lines that are interrupted only by the small, oval ears.
The pair represents a standard type of Greek jewelry known from the Archaic period onward. Both parts, the hoop and the head, appear in a wide number of variations. These range from plain to elaborately twisted hoops; from rather rigid heads joined to the hoop without additional decoration to those with richly ornamented cuffs; and from ferocious to docile lions.
The shape of these pieces, which feature heads that are sharply set against a plain hoop, recalls the composition of lion-head bracelets from Pantikapaion, now in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. However, the execution of both pairs differs considerably.
This is the only Greek animal-head bracelet known that features a hoop that is widest opposite the opening and slowly diminishes toward the terminals. From a technical point of view, this is a brilliant design, as the placement of the loop’s heavy weight at this spot helps to keep the terminals in place. Also unusual is the lack of additional decoration in connection with the heads, which can be dated by their sculptural quality and style to the Classical period.
For the chronology of lions-head bracelets in general, see M. Pfrommer, Untersuchungen zur Chronologie früh- und Hochhellenistischen Goldschmucks (1990), pp 100ff. For the pair of bracelets in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, see D. Williams and J. Ogden, Greek Gold (1995), no. 96; and B. Deppert-Lippitz, Greek Bracelets of the Classical Period, in D. Williams, ed., The Art of the Greek Goldsmith (1998) pp. 91ff.