A pair of ferocious green and yellow glazed stoneware lions, standing four-square on oblong bases. The flames on the legs indicate these were a celestial lions, which is emphasised by dragonesque heads, with open mouths and bushy eyebrows over bulging eyes. The stylized curled mane and bushy tail are glazed yellow and white ruyi-shaped saddles sit on long amber saddle cloths. Ornamental caparisons, with bells and tassels, hang around their chests and bodies. A small green glazed jar sits on its back with a tubular cavity running down through the saddle to the base; this could have served to hold a wooden pole, either for a flag or for holding up a canopy over a religious sculpture.
The Ming period was one of great economic prosperity and expansion in China, which caused a building boom and a large demand for architectural ceramics. These were manufactured by potters who moved from site to site, establishing kilns where their work was needed. These lions were probably part of a larger order of tilework ceramics such as architectural tiles and sculptures with bright glazes, made for a major building or temple. These type of wares were typically ordered by wealthy Chinese patrons and there is no evidence that they were made for export.
The lion dog is a very popular motif in Chinese art - also referred to as Buddhist Lions or Fo Dogs. They bear little resemblance to real lions, usually stylized as fantastical creatures with exaggerated features. Lions are associated with Buddhism, as legend has it that Buddha once entered a temple and instructed his two accompanying lions to wait outside - which they did dutifully. This is said to be the reason that lions are found at the gates of Buddhist temples and entrances of sacred halls - symbols of guardianship and wisdom.
Stylistically similar large stone lions can be found along the spirit of the imperial Ming tombs. Single tilework Lions, are in the Victoria & Albert Museum (acc.nr.C94-1913) and British Museum in London (acc.nr.1910,1223.1) and Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore (acc.nr.1995-03482).