DESCRIPTION OF A BRONZE LION


All references to the place of origin and manufacture of this casting, to the era and the civilisation to which it belonged, have been lost. It measures 50 x 40 x 25 and is in excellent condition despite the effects of time; corrosion has perforated the metal in several places whilst in others the surface is paper-thin. 1
The tail, whilst most probably present, has been lost: although one may observe the opening where it was previously attached.
Of great interest are the four symmetrical holes skilfully displayed around the mane (perhaps produced by the casting). .
Metallography 2 tests have been carried out. The elements of alloy 3 have also been tested.
It was not possible to obtain results of the thermoluminescence 4 test because of the lack of casting material present.
Upon first glance one is stuck by the great sculptural power of the frontal view, undoubtedly that which demands our attention, given that it presents the widely opened mouth armed with tongue and spiked teeth thrust toward the spectator.
The fearfulness of the mask suggests its function as a guardian, possibly one of a pair. The rear limbs are in a straight position, whilst the frontal limbs are inclined toward the onlooker and the paws, in order to simulate movement, extend in a wavelike movement.
The head is without a neck, adding to our impression that the animal would have been positioned to ward off danger; that it protects a forbidden space.
The flanks are no less interesting than the frontal aspect. The vibration of the muscle mass is more pronounced than that of the facial muscles. Despite its limited size, the work suggests monumental proportions.
The mane is arranged in a first ring of curls and then a second of softer waves, which allude to masculinity. The presence of accentuated teats however alludes to the feminine, and thus indicates an animal that is both imaginary and symbolic.
The formal characteristics immediately recall the art of an ancient society, perhaps a still archaic one. Initially the buyer believed the work pertained to an oriental-inspired period B.C. or an era some centuries into the A.D. because of its tendency to rework certain established forms.
Other experts, however, believe it belongs to the Medieval era. 5
The object is not in the least the work of a decorative hand and yet it possesses and expresses vigour and character. The synthesis of detail and naturalistic elements, with a dash of pure fantasy, (the line of the mouth which continues horizontally; the line of the stomach and the paws which is attached unnaturally to the mouth) reveal that this is not so much an animal that is represented, but rather a terrifying cavity, in the form of a feline mouth which has the capacity to engulf.

1. UNIVERSITY OF STUDIES OF PADOVA - CENTRE OF INTERDEPARTMENTAL SERVICES

2. DOCTOR LIVIO FOLLO - BOLOGNA

3. RESEARCH CENTRE - ISPRA SECTION

4. INSTITUTE OF ISOTOPES OF THE HUNGARIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

5. DR. HERBERT A. CAHN - KUNST DER ANTIKE

LETTER OF MRS. YVONNE HACKENBROCH
THE BRITISH MUSEUM - DEPT. OF GREEK AND ROMAN ANTIQUITIES.
DOCTOR FEDERICO ZERI

 

TO MR. GUY COQUOZ IN THE HOPE THAT THIS BE PASSED ON TO HERBERT A. KAHN, DOCTOR PHIL.


Although your knowledge may be piecemeal, you are familiar with the intricate story surrounding the "lion" and my personal quest to place this within an historical-cultural context. I am convinced that certain factors removed from the object in question and linked to specific dynamics of the market at the time of purchase, induced me to wholly embrace the theory of an exclusively "orientalised" origin, clearly excluding the possibility of a central-italic source. In addition, I found these hypotheses soothing, in the sense that at the time (ten years ago) they removed me from the cultural embarrassment of harbouring such an important object. My first impression, a powerful emotional impact, had however led me to believe - although this was an intuitive reaction - that the object could be identified as linked to the Italian peninsula. Today, though it be expressed with the language of the dilettante and the passion of the naive, I feel I may reasonably return to my original hypothesis. In this sense my ideas would no longer be based upon impressionable and emotional intuitions, but upon rationalised analysis of recent, up-to-date studies - for these I would like to thank you - and also for the cultural suggestions that you were kind enough to make. In conclusion, I maintain that I am no longer able to attribute the "lion" to a generic, so-called "orientalised" period, but that I am able to connect its provenance to the central-italic culture, and may affirm that it has been influenced both by Magna Grecia and by Etruria. I am aware of the risk of such an affirmation, which would have the "lion" as a unique example, a key exemplary of a culture that has been largely buried. On the other hand, the same conviction has led me to make a series of comparisons which I wish to share with you as soon as possible in detail. At this point I would like to introduce these to you in writing, as I promised beforehand.

The generic "family zone" which links the object to the ample ranks of legendary animals of the "orientalised" period, serves to outline its confines. And yet, the work expresses a force that is so violent, so irrational, so indifferent to many formal considerations that it becomes an example of almost modern evocation. Most illuminating in this respect are the observations of E. Akurgal in "Oriente e Occidente". One could easily begin by dwelling upon (1) the expressive lion snout of "aryballes" McMillan, to then move on to (2) the columned lions of Tell Tainat which share a similar sense of volume with our lion; (3) returning to Karkemish's lions, where it is worth mentioning the graphic emphasis of the pronounced cheekbones, which in our "lion" follow forceful, sculpted lines; (4) to the portal lion of Malatya, where we may observe a vague affinity in the treatment of the mane. Once again it is worth noting the Attic funereal lions, in particular for their recurring head-body alignment and for their positioning (5). Finally, we may take for granted the comparison between the "Lupa" and the "Chimera of Arezzo".

Although it is painstaking to unfurl one by one the many layers of this lengthy process, I feel that several influences appear with certainty in the "lion": suggestions of Hittite art; the avant-garde suppleness of Greek art; the position of vigilance and expectancy that we come across in the "Lupa" and in the "Chimera"; the abstract and yet structured rendering of the snout and the vibrissae, which is repeated throughout. In addition I perceive signs of an ancient style and method of working in the perfectly distinct side and frontal views, the former lengthened in the horizontal sense, the latter in the vertical sense. (In this way, the compact mass structure has the effect of subconsciously recalling the cubist style for the contemporary observer). Other archaic signs are revealed in the geometric treatment and the symmetry of solutions devised for the snout and mane considering the inconsistency of the position: in fact while the rear paws are presented in a straight direction, the frontal paws are pointed diagonally forward, without producing a lowering of the head. A further archaic sign is shown in the dynamism relegated solely to the muscle mass, and in the overall pathos of the powerful visual effect, given force by the fact that it is restrained. My reading of the details to this point should not however induce one to form mistaken conclusions concerning the possible "naivety" of the artist. On the contrary, the object stands as an original rendition which incorporates different formal codes from disparate cultural sources.

In this way, such a significant example of the fusion of naturalism and abstraction leads us directly to the Etruscan culture. On page 55 of the study, "La Chimera e il suo Myth", one learns that almost all researchers claim the "Chimera" as an Etruscan work for its blend of stylisation and naturalism, about which I have already spoken at length. On page 202 of the study "Etruschi e Italici" by R. Bianchi Bandinelli and A. Giuliano, one reads: "…, it seems that every attribution of non Etruscan work is abandoned for certain typological characteristics that are non-existent in Greek works: in particular, the attachment of the ears behind the mane (and not in front of)." Also the particular attention given to the play of the hands and feet evident in many Etruscan paintings and models has been pointed out by many and, in this case, has a precise parallel in the extraordinary wave-like advance of the paws toward the spectator. The aforementioned "formal uncertainties" are not to be found solely along the two body-to-head sides, but also in the diagonal sense of the flanks: the right-side mane is softer, more fluid and skilful, with a more detailed execution of the thorax on the same side; whereas the execution of the left side is rougher and more sketchy, more hurried and inexact, with larger and longer paws. This formalised nonchalance demonstrates an obvious striving for effect, typical of an art form with strong ties to its communicative intentions and popular roots.

I would like to note two recent discoveries that I hold close to heart. The first is the photographic reproduction of a bronze mirror conserved at the British Museum, at the base of which appear two carrier lions. The object is generally believed to have come from Magna Grecia, circa fifth century B.C.; the dimensions are unclear, although I would suppose these to be compact. The object is noteworthy because although its size does not allow a precise comparison, it reveals for the first time in my research a surprising affinity with the "lion", above all in the frontal view and particularly in the unusual solution for the chin, with its prominent bowl shape (6). The second (7) is related to an antefix from Veio, dated 7th century B.C., which reproduces the head of Gorgone, thus allowing me to make a series of stylistic comparisons and observations. Previously, following to the methodological inferences of Akurgal, I searched in vain for a relationship between the mane of my "lion" and the manes of other lions, without finding anything beyond a vague resemblance with an oriental-aramaic style: here we find the beard and hair of gods and sphinxes appear to be formal archetypes, in the sense that their tiered presentation has a sacred significance. However, I made an illuminating discovery in my study of the hairstyles of Hermes of Veio and of the Gorgone cited above. The peculiar nature of the terracotta allows the artist to gather the locks in supple cords that twist into curls, similar to those we find in the final section of the mane of the "lion". In the same way, the Gorgone of the antefix is particularly significant: if we consider the opening and dimension of the mouth; the way the dental area has been underlined so that the canine teeth seem to spring from a clean incision; the dramatic projection of the tongue; the violent scowl of the forehead; the crown of curls resting on this and followed by a symmetrical series of elongated "S"-shaped ringlets; the halo, in this case present in a material form, which can lead one to imagine a type of structure that may have surrounded the head of the "lion" (an intricate mesh also appears to show rays cast over the main body). In addition, we must not overlook the frontal view of the antefix, which is typical of mass produced artisan pottery, more frequent because of its lower cost. It is not difficult to hypothesise about the typological resonance of this piece and thus infer that, being an element of his visual imaginary, it may have influenced the creator of the "lion".

As an aside I would also like to mention the lion head decorating a gold coin from Populonia (8). In this third case, what is interesting is not a direct affinity, but a similar attempt to inspire terror. Most effective to this end is the violent encircling of the closed eye and the thrust-open mouth.

I would like to make a final departure from my path. Based upon studies of both form and content, I feel I am able to exclude the "lion" from the high-medieval age with sufficient conviction. This could only have been justified by virtue of the long thread of continuity between formal Etruscan expressionism and similar Romanesque tendencies. However, in my opinion, the two represent entirely different cultural sensibilities, both in their relationship with death and in their linguistic systems, which are the symbolic equivalent.

In ancient times, life was portrayed as a series of challenges met by men and heroes, translated into myths which may for the most part be understood as the struggle-confrontation with an external enemy. The latter was often described in annals or histories, an appropriate vehicle for the vast array of the forms of horror. It is clear that the most significant symbols are those called upon to recount the supreme challenge, the frontier of all frontiers, death. It is in this anthropological frame that, in my opinion, the "lion" finds its meaning, its funerary significance and the inspiration behind its formal resolutions. The Christian vision is different, with the frequent appearance of iconographic symbols. The crucifixion-execution and the image of Christ alone totally absorb the entire mythology of Man at odds with a struggle, such that an concrete representation is superfluous.. .. ..

Please excuse this hurried digression, entirely driven by the need for completeness.

A last word concerning the comparison suggested by yourself with the Lion of Venice. After consulting the exhaustive work of Doctor Scarfi on this theme, I must conclude that quite frankly it seems to me to be by Molo (attributed to the fifth century B.C.) - a less lion-like and rather more terrifying monster - that strives to establish a magic-hypnotic relationship with the viewer. It remains the extraordinary vehicle of another extraordinary voyage.

I await your reply. Thank you for your interest and cordiality.

Udine, 0-09,1994

Doctor Roberto Maurizio

 

REPORT ON THE STATE OF CONSERVATION AND TECHNOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS RELATING TO A COPPER ALLOY LION SCULPTURE


A thorough examination has been made of a metal alloy sculpture with a major copper component representing a lion, with the dimensions 50cm in length and 35cm in height. The sculpture is comprised of a central body with a head that is out of proportion with respect to the rest of the statue: the statue has a series of perforations caused by the technique used in its fabrication. It is difficult to define the category of the subject and the technology used. It presents several perplexities and reveals a certain technical backwardness: most certainly the object has been produced first in clay, then terracotta, in order to obtain a working model; this model has been refined then covered by a layer of thin wax; this is evident in the thickness around the dentures, the ears, the mane of the lion and, in general, in the lack of refinement that results in the work. It is worth noting that the relative thinness over the entire sculpture shows both the intent of the artist and his technical prowess in the use of less bronze and thus less outlay to produce the casting. The area of the metal with the thinnest layer, the large internal cavity of the sculpture, provides technical evidence of the removal of the original internal material.

The most extreme part of the mane has most definitely been attached afterward; an uninterrupted line shows where it overlaps from in front of the ears along the length of the animal. The asymmetrical mane is superimposed upon the body, raised above the skeleton and ribs of the animal. The various perforations, present throughout the whole surface, indicate that the wax covering the original model was of inconsistent thickness; along the side parts of the mane we notice passage holes which were probably produced by small supports inserted to hold away the internal material after the emptying of the wax.

With the elimination of the internal material followed a spreading of the perforations; in fact the holes are many, not only near the nostrils of the animal, but also between the teeth; it is most important to observe the tongue which is hollow with a marked opening on the left side, thrust from the oral cavity with jaws thrown open. We also observe that the inside of the statue presents a reliable residue of the fusion material; the same may be said for the tail; attention must also be given to the series of openings throughout the surface which give further evidence of the subtlety of the original covering. The muzzle of the beast shows, close to the left eye, an exposed area where one may observe particular corrosive formations where some perforation has occurred. The patina appears to be original and not detracted by the thickening evident around the locks of the mane. The rear view clearly shows a division of a metallic nature between the two parts, upper and lower: this confirms the hypothesis of the presence of internal material, or various internal entities, serving as a support within the animal. Testing of this metal alloy immediately indicates an element that is related to brass; certain tests confirm this with the strong presence of zinc combined with copper. Further evidence is provided by the colouring that has developed around the teats, which shows a chromatic tonality typical of this type of brass, with its high concentration of zinc.

The areas of the surface which are not encrusted are relatively grainy and rough, indicating that the object is fairly antique. The successive layers of patina are natural and constitute a typical ancient incrustation caused by the thickening by oxidation that occurs solely with the passing of time ( inexpert interference has deteriorated the original appearance in some areas ); we note that the oxidation is not of a soil origin, which would produce an uneven effect with distinct layers, difficult to produce upon an brass alloy with its high concentration of copper and zinc. All of the elements taken into consideration point to the originality of the copper alloy sculpture: a study of the internal area; the varying thickness between the filled parts of the casting and the covering of the animal's body; the thinness of this layer which may be produced solely with a certain technique; the uneven distribution of perforations; the mane superimposed upon the first central unit; the details of the sculpture; the formations of incrustations and their relative growth; the character of the corrosive formations.

From the numerous tests carried out one may conclude that such types of alloys have only been in existence from the late Romanesque period to the end of the Medieval age. There are no elements which suggest that the object is not original.


Doctor Livio Follo

Bologna, 1st August 2000