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Stone Lion
206 BC-AD 220
Material and technique
black granite with red striations
105 x 48 x 138 cm
Augusta Monferini
Osvald Sirèn, well-known expert in Chinese art, described the huge lion as “the foremost of all Chinese animal statues ever brought to Europe”, and indeed it is one of the most precious objects in the collection, originally set before the tomb of a prince of the Western Han Dynasty (AD 25-220). Like all ancient Asian sculpture its function was ceremonial. Pairs of large animal statues guarded the burial places of princes and were spaced along the “path of the spirits” leading to the entrance of the tomb.
The statue was broken into pieces and lost limbs and tail during a fire that took place while it was being moved from Turin to Rome. Despite the  severe damage, the power of the lion’s body is evident from the tension in the tightly bunched muscles as he prepares to spring. The fluid and elegant spine flows into a thick arched neck from which his mane rises.
The statue perfectly conveys the animal’s immense vigour and there is general consensus that Sirèn was correct in describing it as the one of the finest examples of sculpture from the Han period.  Its plastic beauty and extreme realism are enhanced by the quality of the stone used, a dark grey marble with red striations.
Two smaller but very similar lions were found at the entrance to the burial site of the Wu family in Shandong Province. Also sculpted in movement, their jaws open, the animals are evidence that in ancient burial traditions the lion symbolized protection of the tomb.
Stone Lion
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