2004.202.A, Front Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Pair of Circular Lion-Head Relief Attachments
Work Type
2nd-3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Bronze, lead on eyes
2004.202.A: 20.6 x 19.3 x 6.7 x 0.05 cm (8 1/8 x 7 5/8 x 2 5/8)
2004.202.B: 20.5 x 19.3 x 6.3 x 0.05 cm (8 1/16 x 7 5/8 x 2 1/2)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin
Other Elements: lead, iron, silver
Comments: The eye has higher lead, but no other significant differences from the main alloy. The two objects have the same elements.
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina on both attachments is green and stained with dark red areas of rust and dark green repair accretions. There are cracks from the periphery toward the center and small losses at the edges. Many small losses in the interior are corrosion losses in areas that were made very thin during the forming process. Portions of the teeth are also missing. Dark, rough areas of the front and back surfaces are modern restoration material that was applied to strengthen and hide cracks in the metal.

The bronze sheet was pressed and probably hammered into a negative mold to form the lion’s head, mane, and the grooved border. The same mold was used for both attachments. Several annealings would have been required to achieve this depth of relief.

Folds in the metal at several locations are the result of pushing the relatively thin sheet into the deep, complex shape of the mold. The openings at the mouth were cut during or after the repoussé process. The remains of three staples (12 mm wide) made of iron wire (c. 2 mm in diameter) are located near the edge of each disc at the top and on either side of the mouth. The coloration applied to the eyes is not clearly designed or preserved. The orange pigment is predominantly on top of the white pigment, but it can also be found beneath the white. The orange, as it survives, is mostly above the eyelids and to the sides of the eyeballs. The white, which is lead based, could have more than a single shade, but this is obscured by green corrosion staining and accretions. The layers of white and orange coloration generally range from 1 to 3 mm in thickness.

Henry Lie (submitted 2011)

From the collection of Lilian and Benjamin Hertzberg.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Benjamin and Lilian Hertzberg
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
These two circular repoussé discs depict lion heads and were probably the faceplates for decorative handles. The two discs are similar enough to have been made using the same mold. On each disc, the lion’s face is rendered in high relief. The mane completely surrounds the face in straight, thin locks. The lion’s brows are raised and furrowed with an impressed line running along each one. The round eyes on each disc, with upper and lower lids rendered, have white and orange discolorations, but it is not clear whether these are intentional or the result of corrosion. 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 (broken on one side on 2004.202.B). The upper teeth are rendered as a strip between the canines (preserved on 2004.202.A only), with the incisors separated by impressed lines; the lolling tongue covers the lower teeth and much of the lower lip and chin. A molded rim consisting of two raised bands encircles the mane, and the traces of iron corrosion on three equally spaced locations in the border of each disc show where clamps 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. For similar pieces, see T. Weber, Syrisch-römische Sarkophagbeschläge: Orientalische Bronzewerkstätten in römischer Zeit (Mainz am Rhein, 1989) 28-39, “Kat. III,” figs. 30-39, pls. 30-46; 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; and H. Mahboubian, Art of Ancient Iran: Copper and Bronze (London, 1997) 265, no. 341, which also have orange and white discoloration on their surfaces.

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

Publication History

Susanne Ebbinghaus, ed., Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens: Introductory Essays on the Study of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes, Harvard Art Museum/Yale University Press (Cambridge, MA, 2014), p. 83

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu