11268 A REMARKABLE PAIR OF CARVED EBONY AND SAPPANWOOD LIONS Indian Or Dutch East Indies. Eighteenth Century Or Earlier. Measurements: Height: 13″ (33 cm) Width: 5″ (13 cm) Depth: 15″ (38 cm).
Of ebony and sappanwood. Each in the form of a lion, one male and one female, with white painted eyes and teeth, and carved, rope-like strands of hair.
An Old Prominent US Collection
This pair of carved lions, representing a male and female (although both have flowing manes), displays an unusual physiognomy, particularly in the treatment of the face and hair, with its rope-like strands, while the bodies have a remarkable textured surface achieved by many thousands of tiny chisel strokes.
The closest approximation to what they represent are Chinese Foo/Fu Lions (also known as Foo Dogs, guardian lions, and shishi), stylized figures of lions originally placed outside the entrances of temples and palaces. They are designed in pairs; a male lion holds a globe under one paw and represents yang, symbolically protecting the structure itself, while the female lion holds a cub and represents yin and a nurturing spirit, protecting those within the dwelling.
The Chinese had been the dominant foreign Chinese trading nation in South East Asia, and a large population of Chinese craftsmen living and working in Batavia, the capital city of the Dutch East Indies (present-day Jakarta, Indonesia), facilitated cultural exchange in the arts of the region. Furthermore, analysis of the wood of the tongues of the lions confirms that it is Sappan (Biancaea sappan). Native to tropical Asia, this wood was traditionally used for dyes and medicine, but was also employed as a veneer in the 17th and 18th centuries, largely in the Dutch East Indies, where it was also a major trade good in the 17th century.