Did you think the lion was sleeping because he didn’t roar?Friedrich Schiller (Die Verschwörung des Fiesco zu Genua).
In recent years, every time I go to the centre of Athens for a walk or for shopping, I will always remember to go to Romvis Street, in order to check if the lions are still in place. In the small Petropoulos Arcade (Στοά Πετρόπουλου) at 13 Romvis Street (Οδός Ρόμβης), at the exit to Evangelistrias Street (Οδός Ευαγγελιστρίας), there are two marble lions, watchful guards of the arcade. They are placed far from each other and at different levels of the arcade. Doing a little research and asking the shop owners in the arcade (most of the shops sell sewing items and wedding preferences), no one knew when or why these lions were placed there. So my interest became more intense and I started researching for such sculptures. While searching on the internet, I came across the famous “Canova Lions”.
Antonio Canova was an Italian neoclassical sculptor. His works were inspired by the Baroque movement and the Classical Revival. However, he has been characterized as avoiding the melodramatics of the former and the cold artificiality of the latter. One of his most famous works is the monumental tomb of Clement XIII in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The sculpture shows the Pope kneeling in prayer. To his left stands the Religion dressed in Jewish holy clothes and to his right is the Genius of Death. The sculpture is innovative but also respects the previous tombs in the Basilica.
At the base of the tomb there are two superb crouching lions, among the most beautiful creations by Canova. The one lion is awake, on the left, representing the energetic work of the Pope, while the other, on the right, is asleep symbolizing his moderation. The profound yet calm psychological contrast of the two is an example of technical perfection. The lions are carved in travertine, while the rest of the monument is made with white marble.
Canova himself donated the plaster casts for the two crouching lions to the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice and they were used there as models for the students until recently. The impact of the lions’ beauty and uniqueness was so strong that from the 18th century onwards a tradition was created to use copies of them as doorway sentinels and symbols of strength and health. One of the most famous copies of the pair of lions is located in front of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.. The copies are cast in bronze from molds of the originals and were installed in 1860. Today, copies of the lions could be found everywhere. They are used as doorway sentinels, mantelpiece adornments, small decorative statues, even bookends.
The two lions in the Romvis arcade are alone and neglected. They probably decorated the doorway of a building or a house that stood nearby, before the construction of the latest buildings in the neighbourhood. The next time you will go downtown for shopping or hanging out at one of the nearby hype cafes and restaurants, check out the arcade entrance to see if the lions are still there.
Exit to Evagelistrias Street