Marble carved protome of a lion

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16th century
nembro rosato
52 cm
45 cm

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This marble carved protome of a lion holding a pinecone in its mouth depicts the crest of the important Italian Onesti family. This sculpture possibly dates from the period of one of the first registered members of the Onesti family: Girolamo di Giovanni di Mariotto Onesti, podestà in Florence in 1577. The sculpture was probably part of a facade.
Exactly how this unique crest came to existence isn’t known, but the combination of a lion and a pinecone is certainly unique. During ancient Egyptian times, the pinecone symbolized the existence of the Pineal Gland, also known as the Third Eye. In Greek mythology, Dionysus is often seen carrying a staff called the ‘Thyrsus’, made out of a pinecone and a long rod adorned with vines. In this context, the pinecone was a symbol for fertility and prosperity. The marble that was used for this sculpture is called Nembro Rosato (Jurassic Limestone), quarried around Venice.

Luigi Braschi Onesti (1745-1816), nephew of Pope Pius VI and Duke of Nemi, is well-known for creating the ‘Braschi-Onesti’ art collection that was kept in the families’ Palazzo Braschi in Rome (now Museo di Roma). What is left of the art collection, including works by Murillo, Van Dyck and Del Sarto, is nowadays kept in big museums all-over the world. The Onesti crest of a lion holding a pinecone is still seen today on the facade of Palazzo Braschi, eternalizing the presence of the Onesti’s in Rome.


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