Pair of Khmer Caparisoned Lions, 10th Century
Lion #1: height 62.2 cm, Lion #2: height 62.5 cm
Condition: Very good, a few minor losses and some deposits from burial
These sandstone sculptures are an impressive and commanding pair of lions (Sanskrit: simhas), carved in the round, their robust modeling and vigorous proportions adding to their expressive presence.
The menacing faces are characterized by grimacing mouths exposing strong teeth, a wide snout and bulging eyes framed by incised lotus leaf motifs. Outfitted with elaborate trappings, an emblem of sovereignty, they are bedecked with multi-sectioned anklets, a rosette collar, raised rosette and lotus pendants
These lions, also referred to as yakshas (Sanskrit for “guardian” or “protector”), sit resolutely on their pedestals, with firmly planted paws, which arise from tense and formidable claws that continue into stout legs. The rear is emphasized by the flicked up tail that runs up the spine, culminating with the tufted tip, which lies upon the thick mane.
Lions, just like Buddhism, made their way to ancient Cambodia by way of India, where they are considered secular and religious symbols of the throne. As king of all beasts, the lion is the symbol of Buddha Shakyamuni, who is also known as the “Lion of the Shakya clan”. Iconographically, their primary role is serving as the vehicle or throne for enlightened beings. In the Hindu religion and Khmer culture, the lion is an avatar of Vishnu called Narshima. In this form he killed Hiranyakashipu, a demon that posed as a god and prohibited the veneration of Vishnu. He tears the stomach open of the demon with incredible claws restoring the right of worship to the Hindi people.
A semi-mythological creature to the ancient Khmers, the lion holds an esteemed place in their religions and artistry. Lions act as guardians and protectors of the temples by dressing the entrances, lining the balustrades and flanking the altars of the venerated.
Originally purchased in New York in 1970.