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In the Hellenistic period, the Kazartepe, a limestone incline south of the ancient city of Miletus, was the site of a densely constructed necropolis. By contrast, however, it would appear that in the Archaic era the site held just a single tomb, albeit one of great size and signifance. A long entrance passage (dromos) led to the tomb chamber that had been hewn into the hillside and sealed with stones. The whole complex was protected by covering it in an additional layer of soil. Above the entrance to the tomb, marble sculptures of two resting lions were positioned. The front half is missing from the second lion, however it is an exact, albeit less carefully worked copy of the other one. The better preserved lion was plunged from above into the dromos and was damaged at the back in the process. While the most early Greek lions follow Near Eastern models, the Miletian lions belong to a small group that drew inspiration from Egyptian models. This group of lions originates from a specific time and area. Greek artists became acquainted with Egyptian images of lions through the close ties and flourishing contact between Lower Egypt and the Greeks of East Ionia in the 7th and 6th century BCE. Greek interest in Egyptian sculpture also gave impetus to the development of Greek monumental sculpture. The lion lies on its left side and has slipped its left hind leg under its body so that the underside of the paw emerges beside its bent right hind leg. In doing so it follows Egyptian models. However, while Egyptian lions fix the viewer with a regal gaze, their heads raised and the front paws crossed, the Miletian lion has its head turned only slightly to the right and is seen resting calmly on its outstretched paws. The only things that seem alert are its eyes. Egyptian sculptors may have been able to observe such a life-like pose by viewing the animals in enclosures. Many formal qualities can also be explained as being of Egyptian influence: the expansive body, slightly turned to face the viewer that results in the gentle curvature of the spine, the depiction of bones and folds of skin on the right thigh, the soft modelling of the pear-shaped face. What gives it away as a work by an East Greek sculptor is the motionless heaviness of the body, the few structuring accents that are only applied to the surface and the soft richness and delight in detail. The lion was the emblem of Miletus. The numerous marble lions, some colossal in size, found in Miletus and Didyma were erected as votive offerings in sanctuaries. We can say with certainty that the two lions from Kazartepe were set in place to guard a single tomb. They are a testament to the importance of the deceased.

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  • Title: Lion guarding a grave
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: -575/-525
  • Location: Miletus
  • Physical Dimensions: w171 cm
  • Type: Statue
  • Medium: Marble
  • Inv.-No.: Sk 1790
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-814319
  • External link: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Verlag Philipp von Zabern / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Huberta Heres || Photo: © b p k - || Photo Agency / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius
  • Collection: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz

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