In contrast to more common depictions of lions as fierce and menacing, this small whimsical figure seems somewhat bemused. He sits back on his haunches, with his front paws outstretched, turning his head to look straight at the viewer. His tail turns gracefully to lie in the center of his back. The treatment of the lion's ruff as short and incised, the flamelike lines on the body representing fur, and the rounded face and ears are all stylistic indications that the original piece was made in the region of Lakonia in southern Greece, an area once controlled by the ancient city of Sparta.
In antiquity, lions were seen as guardian beasts. Statues of lions were placed on the corners of funerary plots or atop graves to guard the deceased. Lions were a popular subject during the Archaic period of Greek art (about 700-480 B.C.), even though they probably no longer existed in Greece during that time.