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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Basin Handle with Lion and Snake Heads
Work Type
late 6th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Archaic period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Cast, lost-wax process
7.4 x 12.4 x 2.4 cm (2 15/16 x 4 7/8 x 15/16 in.)
Technical Details

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

Technical Observations: Where the patina is well preserved, it is grayish green, and several light green pits are present. Overall, the handle is very well preserved. Most of the fine cold working is preserved in the top corrosion layer.

The handle was cast using an indirect lost-wax process. Parallel lines where the snakes would have been in contact with the basin bear the impression of incised lines that would have matched the rim of the vessel. These were probably produced by fitting the wax model to the rim before using it to cast the bronze. Dark brown layers that are present only on the contact surfaces may be the remains of a solder. The finer decorative incised lines were created by cold working with a tracer tool and fine punches. Fine dendrites are visible over most of the surface of the handle.

Henry Lie (submitted 2012)


Recorded Ownership History
[Munzen und Medaillen (Basel), Kunstwerke der Antike, May 13, 1961, lot 53]. [Christie's (London), A Peaceable Kingdom: The Leo Mildenberg Collection of Ancient Animals, Oct. 27, 2004, lot 302, sold]; to the Harvard University Art Museums, 2004.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Purchase through the generosity of Roy W. Lennox, David N. Silich, and the Marian H. Phinney Fund
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
This curving basin handle is decorated with the heads of snakes, lions, and a rosette. The handle is U-shaped and has splayed ends (1). It would have been matched by one to three more handles that would have been spaced equally around the basin. There is a flattened terminal on each side, where the handle would have attached to the rim of the basin, with the head of a snake on the exterior point and the head of a lion on the interior. The snakes have deeply inset points for eyes and a V-shape with a central line on top of each head. The underside of the snake heads is flat. The lion heads also have deeply inset eyes. Their noses and mouths are molded, with whiskers indicated. Short horizontal locks of hair on the back of the heads represent manes. The heads would have overlapped the basin rim and looked into the interior. The top of the handle between the lion heads is facetted. At the midpoint, a knob rises up with an eight-petal rosette, rendered with double lines on the top (2 cm diameter, 0.4 cm thick). The edge of the top of the knob is decorated with a herringbone pattern. The underside of the handle is round, featureless, and smooth.


1. A similar handle is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. no. 1998.26. For another basin handle with a similar decorative scheme (a central rosette flanked by lion and snake heads) executed in a different style, compare W. Gauer, Die Bronzegefässe von Olympia: Mit Ausnahme der geometrischen Dreifüsse und der Kessel des orientalisierenden Stils, Olympische Forschungen 20 (Berlin, 1991) 240, no. P 27, pl. 62.2. For the possible shape of the basin the handle might have belonged to, see Gauer 1991 (supra), fig. 2, no. 24 (P34).

Lisa M. Anderson

Publication History

  • Alan S. Walker, ed., Animals in Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection, Part III, Verlag Philipp von Zabern (Mainz, 1996), p. 104-105, no. 156.
  • A Peaceable Kingdom: The Leo Mildenberg Collection of Ancient Animals, auct. cat. (2004), p. 240-41

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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