Lion’s Head

34. Spout or Finial: Lion’s Head

Accession Number76.AO.81
Date525–480 B.C.
DimensionsHeight: 19.5 mm; width: 17 mm; depth: 20 mm; Diameter of through-bore: 6.5 mm; Weight: 3.1 g
View in Collection


–1976, Gordon McLendon (Dallas, TX), donated to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1976.


The object is intact, in very good condition, with minimal cracking and crazing overall. There are minute chips in the mane on the right side and behind the right eye, and more degraded small areas on the lower right side of the head, marked by a lighter yellow-ocher alteration area. In ambient light, the object is dull brown; illuminated by transmitted light, it is ruby colored. No inclusions are evident.


This amber is worked in the shape of the head and neck of a ferocious lion. The head is almost perfectly square. In frontal view, the object is tubular. In profile, the face tapers toward the nose and chin. The supraorbital areas are plastically modeled, with fine ridges carved to represent the eyelids. The eye sockets are deep, hollow, and asymmetrical: the right one is higher and more circular than the left one, which is amygdaloidal in form. The sockets may originally have held inlaid eyes (ivory and amber?).

The snout slopes down to a step above the short, rounded nose. The nares and nostrils are detailed with fine horizontal grooves. Two additional horizontal engraved lines, wrinkles, cross the bridge of the snout just above the nose. Four engraved diagonal lines rise from each side of the upper lip, wrinkling the lion’s muzzle. The philtrum is indented. The mouth of the lion is a large, hollow cavity. The lips are drawn back tightly and undercut to reveal the gums; a full set of incisors and matched small teeth rim the mouth. Below are flaps of the jaw, marked with two incised lines on each side at the front. The end of the tongue protrudes and is slightly transluscent.

The back of the head, which is beveled, is larger in circumference than the mane. The mane is a raised collar. On the upper part of the head, the hanks of hair are rendered as long pinnate lobes, with shorter triangular fillers. On the underside, the mane is not detailed. The lion’s large ears commence at the back of the mane, lying flat to the head and pointing straight backward.

There are many tool marks. Incision lines mark the wrinkles of the muzzle and the nose and the details of the mouth. Abrasion is evident on the back of the head and around the lower edge of the collar. Faint drill marks remain inside the bore.


The style (and form) of the lion of 76.AO.81 is not closely paralleled by any other lion’s head. However, an amber lion pendant in London (British Museum 64), of unknown provenance, bears a familial resemblance. Both look as if they would mew rather than roar. The similarities are most obvious in profile or top view. The rendering of both animals is schematic, and they seem tame. They have simplified ruffs, flat muzzles, and wooden mandibles, and the eyes are crudely modeled bulges.

There is one other figured amber with a through-bore, a stylized head of a ram in the Getty collection (, cat. no. 53). Both lions’ and rams’ heads may have served similar purposes. Perhaps they served as the tiny inset spout of a small vessel, as a decoration on a small container, or as the finial bead of a necklace or other item of adornment. The faïence feline-head amulets on an Eighteenth Dynasty string of beads in New York are one prototype for the last.1 An object in the Norbert Schimmel collection, a unique Egyptian blue (light) finial of a lion’s head holding in its open jaws a Negro head, provides another idea. If reconstructed on this model, the Getty lion’s mouth may have held a human leg or head, part of an animal, or small prey. Greek models for such a use are the incorporated animal protome spouts on terracotta and metal vessels, the earliest dating to the seventh century B.C. The lion’s-head spouts on three gold rhyta from the fourth-to-third-century B.C. Panagyurishte Treasure (Bulgaria) are a later model for such a hypothetical use.2

The lions of 76.AO.81 and the London pendant (BM 64) fit in well with the group of Late Archaic–period Etruscan lions, small gold heads, and various objects of bronze brought together by W. L. Brown.3 As he showed, these lions show strong stylistic relationships to earlier Etruscan lions and Greek models from both Ionia and Magna Graecia. The closest among them are the gold lions’ heads and a bronze lion once on the Rome art market. They have a comparable form of the mane and the lower face, including the semicircular flaps, and deep-set eyes. A bronze head in Boston from Orvieto has a similar disposition of the teeth and lower jaw (including the lower flaps), and the lion’s head of a lacunaria in Perugia from Castel San Mariano has a remarkably similar profile and the same short face, set-in eyes, and small tongue.4 76.AO.81 is also effectively compared in type to the heads of the lions and chimeras on a group of Late Archaic Etruscan gold fibulae.

The distinctive physiognomic elements of the bronze comparisons place 76.AO.81 near to Perugia. The style of the pendant also shows a connection to Cerveteri and Vulci, the locations where the gold pendants are thought to have been made.

Whether 76.AO.81 was an ornament finial or a tiny spout, the lion’s head would have played its traditional roles in protection and the aversion of danger. If liquid poured from its mouth, such a use would relate it to the popular lion’s-head waterspouts on sacred (and secular) buildings5 and to fountain heads.


  1. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1926 26.7.1364. These are pictured in , p. 203, no. 122.
  2. Plovdiv, Archaeological Museum 3200–3202: Ancient Gold: The Wealth of the Thracians, Treasures from the Republic of Bulgaria, exh. cat., ed. I. Marazov (New York, 1998), p. 142, nos. 68–70.
  3. , chap. 5.
  4. Perugia, Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell’Umbria 1390: , p. 101, pl. XLI.
  5. For discussion of the historical and typological background of lion’s-head waterspouts in Italy, with a succinct analysis of the two diverse traditions there, Etrusco-Italic and Magna Graecian Sicilian, and with a study of their relationships to earlier and contemporary examples, see P. Pensabene, Terracotte del Museo Nazionale Romano I: Gocciolatoi e protomi da sime (Rome, 1999), pp. 19–24.


Brown 1960
Brown, W. L. The Etruscan Lion. Oxford, 1960.
Hatshepsut 2005
Roehrig, C. H., ed. Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. With R. Dreyfus and C. A. Keller. New York, 2005.