In Ancient Rome, furniture in itself was a status symbol. The poorer classes owned very little furniture, and that they did was of the most common materials in the most basic shapes and forms, such as a simple wooden stool. However, for the aristocracy classes, their home furnishing were handcrafted from the most durable materials such as marble and finished with fine decorative details created from the most luxurious materials such as gold and bronze. In fact, an aristocratic Roman Villa would not appear that distant from our modern homes. Wealthy Roman residential architecture featured hot and cold running water, a sewage drain in the kitchen, and, in the fanciest homes, hot tubs modeled after the opulent public baths. Comparably, their furnishings achieved a level of sophistication and artistry that would rival (if not surpass) the finest pieces created today. We are impressed how advanced civilization was so long ago, and yet realize that the very foundations of convenience in our modern lives are rooted in the past. Wicker chairs, wooden couches with stuffed cushions, beds supported on frames, tables for eating and drinking, storage cupboards, decorative mosaic tiles, painted walls: all of these elements could be found in a Roman house.
A lion stands firmly in the center of the slightly arching panel with mouth agape, perhaps in the midst of a mighty roar. The lion is a symbol of strength and ferocity. The largest of the cat family, this animal is known as the “king of the beasts.” They are equally feared and respected for their power, speed, and intimidating growl. Kings and rulers have associated themselves with this noble creature since the days of antiquity, as this stunning ornamental fragment attests to. The sculptor has imbued the creature with a remarkable sense of personality and individual character, especially evident in the beast’s large, distinctive head. His slightly recessed eyes and whiskered jaw are all represented as an artist might depict the wrinkles of a particularly distinguished elder. His weighty paws and exaggerated mane create a feeling of majesty and grandness. Perhaps the most fantastic feature of this work of art is the detailed, incised lines that recreate the illusion of the lion’s svelte body when contrasted to the curly mass of his furry mane. The base itself has also been incised with a motif of interwoven vines, as if creating a stylized floral setting for the creature to roam through. Over the ages, the bronze has acquired a magnificent turquoise patina that only enhances the beauty and texture of the piece.
Originally, this fragment would have decorated a piece of furniture such as an armchair or couch in order to enhance its overall beauty and aesthetic appeal. Giving the gorgeous execution of this piece, we can only assume that the piece of furniture would have been carved from the most expensive wood, likely inlaid with gold and ivory motifs. Today, the lion is no longer an ornament, a mere part used to decorate a greater whole, but a self sufficient masterpiece that we are able to appreciate on its own merit for its mesmerizing charm and graceful beauty.