Red mottled sandstone
Northern India. Kushan period
2nd/3rd century
Height 61 cms

A sculpture of the front half of a lion, the face with teeth bared, the tongue protruding and the almost human eyes wide open and alert, the once pointed ears are now missing. The chest covered with a furry mane and the front paws incised to indicate the muscular form of the beast.

This figure would have been placed guarding the doorway to a religious or secular monument and is intended to be viewed from a frontal position and therefore only the front quarters are depicted. Beginning in the Maurya period the lion became an extremely popular motif and is used extensively in Indian art and architecture. In Buddhism the lion is the symbol of the Shakya clan from which Buddha Shakyamuni is descended and so it plays a major role in Buddhist iconography. There are numerous extant examples of guardian lions but this particular one, despite its fragmentary nature, has remarkable presence, the sculpture masterfully capturing the vigilant sate of the animal as it appears ready to pounce at the first sign of attack. Compare to an example in the Mathura Museum, # 00.04.4, published in Ancient Sculpture from India, The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1964, fig. 67.

European collection, 1970's