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Assyrian Statue Takes the Lioness’s Share

On 23 February 2021, by Anne Doridou-Heim

The motto "So Unic" made a strong impression with this beast carved by Assyrians in gold-speckled blue lapis lazuli.

Assyrian Statue Takes the Lioness’s Share

Middle East, neo-Assyrian, 9th-8th century BC. Lapis-lazuli head of a roaring lioness, 12 x 17.5 cm (approx. 4.72 x 6.89 in).
Result: €243,900

The tracks of this beast could be followed not from the sands of Arabia where it was made but from the Swiss Von der Aue collection, which owned it until 1992 (without keeping it in a cage, since in 1966 it was loaned to the Rath Museum in Geneva for the "Treasures of Ancient Iran" show). And, without a doubt, it is indeed a treasure. What majesty, what strength emanate from this small head carved in lapis lazuli, measuring just 12 cm (4.72 in) high.

All eyes were on this neo-Assyrian roaring lioness’s head carved between the 9th and 8th centuries BCE. After a more-than-grim 10th century, the kingdom regained its former splendor, conquered Babylon and enjoyed a period of prosperity. Palaces sprang up, decorated with alabaster bas-reliefs. The reigning god, Assur, was hardly ever depicted due to prohibitions, so protection was ensured by high priests and the famous winged bulls with men’s and lions’ heads, guardians of the gates. Besides this monumental statuary, there were smaller sculptures, certainly reserved for the king or the upper classes. Little has survived and little is known about the few pieces that have. The use of lapis lazuli is a further indication that this was an object or part of a piece of furniture for the high and mighty: the gold-flecked blue stone, recalling the starry sky, was rare and expensive. It came from the mines of Afghanistan and was used sparingly. What is certain is that the beast pounced on a willing prey with open mouth and bared fangs, and made off with €243,900.

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