Object: Bronze Lion Statuette

Gilt bronze lion
Ca. 17th Century
Materials: bronze, gilt

The lion–the king of the jungle–has been the symbol of power and bravery for centuries, dating to 675 BCE with the Lion Gate of Mycenae. Also known as the conquering lion, this symbol is known cross-culturally in contexts of astronomy, politics, and military. Displaying a lion statuette can indicate power and wealth, provide decoration, and invoke fear in its viewers. In the figure pictured above, the lion is protectively laying his right front paw on an orb, another timeless heraldic symbol. Generally the orb is a symbol for the universe. This small lion statuette holds a much larger meaning: protecting the universe.

This particular lion figure is very small, measuring 1.5 inches high by 2 inches long and is more likely to have been used as decoration in a smaller home. Generally, these figures were displayed guarding the gates to a home garden or city-state. The gilt bronze lion statuette was made using the lost wax bronze casting technique. This method can be broken down into thirteen major steps beginning with making the mold and ending with polishing the figure. The following video demonstrates how contemporary sculptors follow similar steps to create a statue in the same way that the lion would have been made back in the 17th century.

Bronze is a melted combination of copper and tin, but gilding bronze adds a few materials. This additional step increases the value of the object by adding ground gold and mercury to the materials. The gold remains with the other metals while the mercury evaporates. This golden outer shell gives the appearance of a solid gold statue. Due to the materials and the small size of the statue pictured above, it was probably owned by someone who was trying to reflect great wealth without possessing it. Someone who could afford to own any piece of art in the seventeenth century sent the message to others that they had enough money to afford luxury goods.

[Anna Sauer]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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