Posts Tagged 'bronze lion'

Object: Bronze Lion

Bronze Lion
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze

This lion is couchant, or in a reclined position with a raised head, with its mouth open, as if resting and looking down. The mane is raised, but not decorated to show individual hairs.  The statuette sits flat and is 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 2 in. (5.1 cm) long, and .5 in. (1.3 cm) wide.

One ancient story relates the taming of a lion.  This story does not involve training a lion; instead an act of kindness makes a lion friendly to humans. Androcles, a slave who ran away to Africa, took a thorn from a lion’s foot. After being captured, Androcles was sent to Rome to be part of a spectacle in the amphitheater where he was to be eaten by a lion. All did not go as planned; the lion refused to eat Androcles, because it was actually the very same lion he had treated in Africa. The Emperor Caligula freed Androcles and the lion, after which Androcles could be seen leading the lion around Rome on a leash. People were amazed by this curiosity and gave Androcles money and scattered flowers over the lion.

Bronze statues and statuettes were a common form of artwork in the Greek and Roman world. Artwork traveled along with the Romans, who spread far into the north, reaching the Netherlands, where bronze lion statuettes have been found. One lion is solid bronze and is shown standing, looking to the right, with its mouth open. This lion                                                                                   is on a hollow terminal and was                                                                                     used as a chariot mounting.

The lion statuette from the Classics Collection was made by casting bronze. Bronze is better than copper for making statues because of its lower melting point. Since the bronze stays liquid longer, it fills a mold better and has superior tensile strength. Cyprus was a major source of copper for the Romans. The copper was mixed with tin to create bronze. Romans imported tin from southwest Turkey, Afghanistan,                                                                               and England (Cornwall).

Beginning in the late Archaic period (ca. 500-480 B.C.) lost-wax casting of bronze was the most common method of creating these types of bronze figures. There are several methods for lost-wax casting, the earliest of which was the solid lost-wax casting. A solid wax model is made, which is then surrounded with clay and heated so the wax comes out and the clay hardens.  Liquid bronze is poured into the hard clay mold. Once the metal hardens, the clay is broken off and the solid bronze statuette is revealed. Bronze cannot be used to make large solid statues, so only small statuettes could be made of solid bronze, like this lion statuette. Lost-wax casting can be used to make hollow statues as well, though the process is slightly different.

Video: To see how lost-wax casting works:

Works Cited

Hemingway, Colette and Sean Hemingway

            2013 “The Technique of Bronze Statuary in Ancient Greece” in Heilbrunn                      Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 25,              2013.


Jitta, A. N. Zadocks-Josephus, W. J. T. Peters, and W. A. van Es

            1969 Roman Bronze Statuettes from the Netherlands II: Statuettes Found                    South of the Limes. Netherlands: Wolters-Noordhoff.

McKeown, J. C.

            2010 A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts                   from the World’s Greatest Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Object: Bronze Lion

Bronze Lion
c. 200 B.C.
Materials: Bronze (cast)

This lion statuette is 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 1.75 in. (4.4 cm) long, and .5 in. (1.3 cm) wide.  There are short horizontal lines that start from the head and go down to the front legs and along the lion’s rump.  The statuette’s mouth is open with the head angled down.  The lion’s nose and eyes are exaggerated.  The upper lip has a detail of whiskers.  A line around the back of its face indicates the mane.  The lion is couchant, or positioned lying down with the head raised, and the tail curved up at the end.  The lion has a hollow body and a small hole in the top of its back, possibly for suspension.

Romans imported the majority of their lions from Africa, Arabia, Syria, and Mesopotamia. The first recorded lions came to Rome in 186 B.C. and were put on display by Consul Marcus Fulvius Nobilior. Lions and other strange animals were used for public entertainment in grand spectacles.  These were held in the amphitheater or circus.

Some of the animals, like lions, were not just displayed, but also used in spectacles.  These spectacles could be animal fighting animal or animal fighting humans. At Nobilior’s lion show he put on venationes (animal hunts). The venationes were staged hunts with trained hunters, the venatores, who attacked the animals (with the possibility that the animals could kill the humans). In other cases there was no pretense of a hunt, and animal fights were held against a trained gladiator or an untrained criminal.  The trained hunters were the bestiarii gladiators who fought the animals.

Some lions were kept as house pets by the wealthy Romans.  These lions were used to shock audiences, as when Mark Antony famously used lions to pull his chariot.  At house parties, some wealthy Romans even had tame lions brought in to surprise the guests.

In Roman art, lions are found on several mediums.  Ivory diptychs from the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. show detailed depictions of the venationes, illustrating lions in real events and not just as symbols in the piece. Artwork is useful in reconstructing the past, as demonstrated in relief carvings that show lions being transported to Italy. One carving depicts a ship in port with three cages holding lions. Other artwork has a religious nature. The god most associated with lions is the great mother goddess Cybele, who is associated with the strength and power of lions and whose chariot is drawn by lions. Additionally, lions sometimes appear in a funerary context.   In the context of a Roman tomb, the lion is supposed to be a symbol of man’s power and victory over death.

It is clear lions were a widespread image in art and spectacle.  Lions in art could have several meanings, and sometimes were a depiction of real life.  At spectacles, both in the amphitheaters and in homes, lions were a grand sight.

Video: See the major arena for venationes in Rome and the importance of animals and venationes in Roman politics by watching the video found here.

Works Cited

Toynbee, J. M. C.

            1973 Animals in Roman Life and Art. New York: Cornell University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

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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