Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Lion-Head Relief Attachment
Work Type
2nd-3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
17.4 x 17.8 x 4.5 cm (6 7/8 x 7 x 1 3/4 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Copper
Alloying Elements: copper
Other Elements: tin, lead, iron
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina is green over black with some areas of red. A 15-cm section along the bottom edge is missing. Several small losses in the interior are due to the thinness of the metal from the forming process and some brittleness from corrosion. Holes at the periphery to the left and right of the mouth are piercings for mounting pins. Yellow material on and below the left eye appears to be a modern consolidant.

As with 2004.202.A-B, the copper alloy sheet was pressed and probably hammered into a negative mold to form the lion’s head and mane. The relief and degree of detail is less than in 2004.202.A-B, but like them, 2002.60.38 has folded creases in the sheet resulting from pushing the metal into the recesses in the mold; in this case, there are only two, which are at the nose. The remains of four iron fastener pins are located on either side of the mouth and above the eyebrows. The opening of the mouth was crudely cut after the forming process. There may have been added polychrome decoration at the eyes, which appear slightly raised beneath the obscuring green corrosion products.

Henry Lie (submitted 2011)

Unknown; possibly London Market. W. C. Burriss Young, Cambridge, MA, bequest; to the Harvard University Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of W.C. Burriss Young
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The thin, repoussé lion head appliqué was likely the faceplate of a decorative handle. Short curving locks representing the lion’s mane encircle the face. The raised brows are furrowed, with an impressed line running along each one. The eyes are circular, with modeled lids. The nose and cheekbones are rendered naturalistically. The mouth is open in a snarl, and the upper and lower sections are connected by two thin strips representing overlapping canine teeth. The upper teeth are rendered as a strip between the canines, and the lolling tongue covers the lower teeth and much of the lower lip and chin. Holes in the mane near the mouth and at the top would have affixed the plate to a piece of furniture or something similar. A thin ring likely ran through the open mouth, held in place by the vertical teeth.

This type of lion-headed handle would have been attached to a wooden sarcophagus or chest, and many examples have been found in Roman Syria (1). It could have been used as a handle for grasping and carrying or merely as a decorative element. The motif of the lion-headed handle also appears on marble sarcophagi (2).


1. T. Weber, Syrisch-römische Sarkophagbeschläge: Orientalische Bronzewerkstätten in römischer Zeit (Mainz am Rhein, 1989) 28-39, “Kat. III,” figs. 30-39, pls. 30-46; and B. Borell, Statuetten, Gefässe und andere Gegenstände aus Metall, Katalog der Sammlung antiker Kleinkunst des Archäologischen Instituts der Universität Heidelberg 3.1 (Mainz, 1989) 106-11, nos. 113-19, pls. 45-46.

2. See, for example, a third-century CE strigilated sarcophagus in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. no. 2005.258; C. A. Picón, ed., Art of the Classical World in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome (New York, 2007) 397 and 496-97, no. 466.

Lisa M. Anderson

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

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