When I walk around my neighborhood, which I do often while walking "Theo the Art Dog", I keep noticing lion sculptures in front of homes everywhere. For years, I lived in Glen Ridge, NJ, and maybe saw something like this a few times, but I currently live in Belleville, NJ, and they seem to be everywhere, as you'll see from my dog walk photos below.
As the title of the page suggests, lions can be seen as symbolic "guardians" when displayed at the front door to a home, but is there more to it than that? I was curious to find out, and I share my findings below.
I like the position of this reclining concrete lion sculpture, seen on Belleville Avenue in Belleville, NJ. He doesn't seem very intimidating to me, but this brings up a point that I found in my research, that there's different meanings for lion sculptures beyond being home guardians. In Buddhist culture, lion statues are said to bring peace and prosperity, while in Italy, the lion sculptures are meant to symbolize power and prestige.
The lion seen above is actually one of a trio that are all positioned along a brick wall alongside the edge of the driveway. Here's two more views of these three lions on Belleville Avenue below:
Here's two more sets of lion sculptures that I saw in my neighborhood. My research found some additional potential meanings, based on the origin of culture: in Vietnam, lion sculptures symbolically protect and empower people. In China, the lion sculptures are meant as guardians, defending homes against accidents and theft. The idea of protection could be at play for the homeowner, below left, because in addition to the lions by the front steps, if you look closely, there's also a small police figure at left, even though a zoom-in reveals this policeman to be a small boy in an oversized uniform, blowing on a whistle. Perhaps more playful than a true "guardian." There's also two frolicking bears positioned to the left of the front door, and a singular black bear holding a "welcome" sign to the right of the door.
Below right, we have another pair of lions guarding the front door, but they're joined by a pair of cat sculptures standing next to "welcome" signs. There's also a cat riding a bike with wind-spinners for wheels.
This next pair of sculptures are a variation on the lion theme - these are Chinese Guardian Lions, also known as "foo dogs" or "shishi." Foo Dogs (sometimes spelled "fu dogs") are a formidable, fabulous lion-like creature which are meant to protect the building or home from harmful spiritual influences and harmful people that might be a threat.
Here's two more sets of lion sculptures found in front of homes in my Belleville, NJ neighborhood. From what I can gather, guardian lions almost always appear in pairs. My research finds that the two lions together represent a duality, a symbolic power that includes both gentleness and wisdom, and a suggestion that seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary.
This next pair are both pretty dramatic: I love the big and bold lions on pedestals in front of this New Jersey home, below left. They are placed further out from the house in order to "greet" visitors before they even get to the front steps! And the pair in the next picture, below right - they are both roaring their greeting to visitors at this home.
I found another report that says that lions in the ancient Greek culture represented a warrior with great status and bravery. Placing them in front of the home is said to suggest to passersby that the "warriors" living here have accomplised something and are very high ranked in society, or they are meant to show wealth, as a symbol of riches and high class. Of course one could argue that many of these homeowners may not be taking any of these clichéd concepts into consideration, and they just think these look sophisticated or cool.
Some of these residential guardian lions also make me think of the famous lions at the entrances to the New York Public Library. I learned here that during the 1930s, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them "Patience" and "Fortitude," in reference to the qualities that he felt New Yorkers would need in order to survive the Great Depression.
I'll leave you with one last pair of pictures: at left, two lions standing guard at the entrance to a driveway in Belleville (NJ), and another pair, unusual compared to all of the others here, in that they flank one side of the house - one to the left of the steps, and the other on the far left side of the yard, as opposed to flanking the front steps.
Keep in mind all of these were found within walking distance of where I live, which goes to show the popularity of these guardian lion sculptures in my neighborhood. If you have any interesting pictures of guardian lions in front of homes in your neighborhood, please send us some jpegs here and we'll share our favorite ones!
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