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Two Sphinxes
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Unknown
Italian, Tuscany, about 1560
Bronze

85.SB.418

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Eyes closed, bedecked in jewels, elaborately coifed, and wearing drapery pinned with a Medusa head between their breasts, these bronze sphinxes project an icy sensuality. Each of a pair crouches on all fours, her form combining parts of four creatures: a human woman's head and chest, a lion's body, eagle's wings, and a serpent's tail (now missing).

Of Egyptian origin, the sphinx was a popular symbol in Greece, where she became known as a symbol of intelligence, voluptuousness, and mystery. In the Renaissance these fantastic creatures were associated with fire and death and thus often ornamented chimneys, hearths, and tombs.

An artisan hammered the figures' surfaces and added a few details after casting. The rough finish on the sphinxes' backs reveals that the figures were meant to be viewed from eye level or below. They probably supported two corners of a sarcophagus in a tomb monument.