This spirited terracotta is a marvelously free and rare model of late 18th century design before it was frozen into the hard and brilliantly chased ormolu of the final version. As Ottomeyer and Pröschel discuss (op. cit., p. 343), this terracotta by Roland was exhibited at the Salon of 1798 and later used by Thomire for clock cases, such as one that could be found in the collections of the dealer Martin-Eloy Lignereux. Additional examples can be found in the Württembergischen Landesmuseum Stuttgart (1968.495) and the French Foreign Ministry, Paris. Another example, inspired by this model but with further elements such as a putto leading the lions, is in the Musé des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (15.202)
Having studied at the Ecole de Dessin in Lille, near his hometown of Pont-à-Marc, Roland moved to Paris in 1764 where he entered the studio of Augustin Pajou. During his stage with Pajou, he worked on major commissions such as the decorations at the Palais Royal, Paris, and at the opera house at Versailles. In 1771 he left for Rome, where he began to combine French 18th-century delicacy with the more austere Italian neo-classicism to great effect. In 1782, he was accepted into the Académie Royale, Paris, and two years later, his father-in-law Nicolas-Marie Potain, comptroller of works at the château of Fontainebleau, secured employment for him as a decorative sculptor in the private apartments of Louis XVI.