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Late Medieval Italian Marble Lion Head Mask


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About this piece

15th Century Italian or earlier - possibly Florentine or Venetian

In the opinion of Experts at Ashmoleon Museum, Oxford

Of polished, coloured Carrara Marble, the Lion's head surrounded by exaggerated volumes of luxuriant mane, with deeply sculpted curls that frame a bestial face with grandiose whiskers, with a hollow throat, filled by teeth and fangs, that suggest previous use as a fountain or conduit for water

Leonine imagery was prolific in late medieval and Renaissance Italy and the mask could have come from any number of possible locations. The winged Lion was the symbol of Venice, representing Saint Mark, the patron saint of the City State, while there is also a lion known as Marzocco (possibly derived from Mars, the god of war) used as a symbol of Florence. The Florentine symbolic repertoire constantly references the Lion, from the Royal Angevin Lions of the 14th Century to the 16th Century Medici Lions of Pope Leo X (Loggia dei Lanzi).

The same period also saw great innovations in the use of sculpture in public spaces. Perhaps fed from a cistern above, the mask would pipe channelled water to fall clear of a wall or fountain, probably into a basin below. The posture of the Lion also indicates a raised position and an elementary understanding of perspective, as the mask is meant to be seen from below.

The crude realisation of the hair and facial features, along with the sculpted perspective, would possibly indicate a late medieval time frame, not having the later sophistication as seen in the 16th century Medici Lions (see image 2). Much of the inspiration for such art was based on the remains of Antiquity, such as the Piraeus Lion of Venice, formerly from Ancient Greece (see image 3 & 4) and often from the portraiture on coins and medals, where the curled hair shows an interest in elaborate patterning that was typical of Renaissance art and Leonardo in particular (see images 5 & 6)

As to the masks removal from its original position, unless of classical origin, public sculpture, once suitably weathered or stylistically outdated, was often not considered worth keeping and would be replaced, the originals disappearing into private collections or latterly into foreign hands, most prominently the British on the Grand Tour


H 30.5cm x W 38.5cm x D 20.5cm
H 12" x W 15" x D 8"

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