In the Roman world, lions maintained a strong association with Hercules, as he famously encountered the Nemean Lion as one of his Twelve Labours. The lion was far from a mythological beast, however, and would have been a familiar sight across the Roman Empire. The venationes (“hunts”) and other spectacula (“shows”) of ancient Rome saw exotic species (including panthers, elephants, and bears) procured from all corners of the Roman Empire – a conscious demonstration in itself of the nation’s extensive reach and authority – and placed in the amphitheatre for gory entertainment. Notoriously, lions were integral to the form of capital punishment known as ‘damnatio ad bestias‘, whereby condemned criminals were pitted against the beasts. Lions were also sought out by Roman army units as a pastime when not at war – the process of capturing the beasts is recorded in several Roman mosaics, as is ‘damnatio ad bestias‘, which became a motif of Christian martyrdom in later antiquity.
Roman Bronze Handle in the Shape of a Lion
A Roman bronze finial taking the form of a pouncing lion, its forepaws attached to its prey. The lion is realistically rendered, with a wild mane and open, roaring jaw. It clutches the head of a recently-captured cow. The beautiful details make for an expressive and dynamic piece.
Provenance: Ex major London collection collected by S.M. 1970-2010
Condition: Very fine condition with some patination and earthy encrustations on the surface. mounted on a custom made stand.