Shortly after the announcement of the purchase of a Hellenistic marble statue of a young girl comes the purchase of a more imposing piece of Greek workmanship—a crouching lion, measuring four feet in length and standing two and a half feet high. Ever since 1923 when the Museum Development Committee recommended the acquisition of an original classic sculpture of the finest quality, the Institute has been searching for an object of this importance for its collections. The statue of the lion was excavated on the north side of the Acropolis at Athens in July, 1914, where it remained until the end of the war and resumption of artistic trade between Greece and France. It is carved in gold colored marble from the quarry at Mount Pentelicus, whence came the marble for the best Attic work after the opening of this special vein of the mine in 420 B.C.The style is excellent; it compares well with the lion in the British Museum which is attributed to Scopas. Critics have dated it at about 380 B.C., when Greek sculpture was passing into a period of new styles and when the natural forms, so well exemplified in the modeling of the muscles of the Institute's newest purchase, were paramount. Looking at the body of the lion, standing on its restored legs, one realizes that no merely naturalistic sculptor could have produced so moving and powerful a form. The lion is tense with its great strength well controlled; its shoulders bear heavily down on the fore paws, but the whole body is capable of springing with ease. To convey such a sense of weight and motion held in check, was one of the fundamental aims of the Greek artist of the Great Age. And it is the surest indication of excellence in the torso of this crouching beast.Lions and other animals have played but a small part in the history of Greek sculpture. Probably the most important example is the pair that stands almost erect on the Mycenaean Gate. It has been said that the pre-Hellenistic sculptors, like the anonymous makers of the relief over the gate, knew lions as residents of the wild hills surrounding the few Mycenaean settlements. Nemea where Hercules slew a lion is not far from Mycenae. But the V-century Greek artists had no such direct knowledge, since by that time the lion had ceased to be native to the peninsula of Greece. It survived in Asia Minor, however, and there appeared frequently in later sculpture, ornamenting public monuments, guarding tombs and appearing in decorative forms, as water spouts and architectural supports.The Attic sculptors were forced to treat the King of Beasts in a conventional way until in the IV century when the animals themselves were imported in cages for the entertainment of the people. No doubt the sculptor of the Institute's lion drew his inspiration from some captive animal and studied its actions so well that he could carve it with spirit, even though retaining the decorative force of an ornamental work. The treatment of the mane is particularly clear evidence of naturalism and the study of the living form.Lions in gold flanked the footstool of the mighty Zeus at Olympia. On the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus lions symbolize the guardians of the dead as well as the strength of the potentate whose living power was thus epitomized. What the exact use of the lion here reproduced may have been, it is impossible to say. But even in its damaged condition, lacking the original legs which must have given more lithe and subtle effect which the placing of the fore paws on different planes and the spread of the hind legs must have had, the statue has yet a most majestic and vigorous strength. Though it is unfortunate that the damage to the jaws deprives the lion of an important leonine characteristic-its fierceness, nevertheless the wide eyes suggest that unblinking boldness which is most characteristic of all. As a piece of workmanship, bearing the responsibility of representing Athenian sculpture of a famous period, the statue is eminently successful; and it will take that high place in the Institute galleries.Referenced Works of Art
- Head of a crouching lion, Greek, IV B.C.
The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund, 1925
- Crouching Lion, Greek, IV B.C.
The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund