These lions are modelled on a pair of antique Egyptian Nectanebo I (XXXth dynasty 380-342 B.C.) black granite lions which probably came from Iseum. At the time of the New Kingdom it was customary to place lions either side of a temple's entrance. The originals have the title of the Pharaoh Nectanebo I inscribed on the plinth. They were moved to Rome and stood outside the Pantheon, possibly by order of Emperor Augustus. In 1586 they were again moved to the Acqua Felice fountain which was officially inaugurated by Pope Sixtus V in 1589 (see S. Delli, Le Fontane di Roma, 1972, pp. 36-38).
Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) 'rescued' them in 1836/37 and placed them in the new Gregorian Etruscan and Egyptian Museum (Museo Gregoriano Egizio, nos. 22676, 22677) (see: G. Rosati and F. Buranelli, Vatican Museums, Egyptians and Etruscans, 1983, p. 27, nos. 28 and 29). They were exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Vatican Collections: The Papacy and Art, Exhibition Catalogue, 1983, pp. 178-179, no. 95.
C. H. Tatham on his travels drew them and published them in his Etchings Representing the Best Examples of Ancient and Ornamental Architecture: Drawn from the originals in Rome and other parts of Italy during the years 1794, 1795 and 1796, 1799.
Jean-Pascal and his brother set up the firm of Virebent Frères in the 19th century. Jean-Pascal was an eminent architect and was responsible for many of the squares in Toulouse. The firm was sold in 1946 to a M. Giscard. An 1890 catalogue of these Toulouse manufacturers of terracotta is preserved at the Musée Paul-Dupuy, Toulouse, France.