The lion is well-represented in Buddhist art of the Tang dynasty. Its roar was said to represent the dissemination of the Buddhist scriptures. In their role as guardian figures they can be found not only lining spirit roads which lead to imperial tombs, but also in pairs in tombs, such as the pair of small marble lions found guarding the front room of the underground hoard of Buddhist relics at the Famen Temple. See Famen Temple, Shanxi, 1990, pp. 164-167. Much more rare, however, are secular depictions of stone lions carved in the round, and few extant examples are known.
Stylistically, the present lion group is most similar to the smaller (15.2 cm.) black limestone example formerly in the Eurmorfopolous Collection, and now in the Louvre, illustrated by O. Siren in Chinese Sculpture from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century, Thailand, 1998 reprint, pl. 435 (b), where the author identifies the smaller animal as a sheep. Another lion and sheep group, although carved from grey limestone, from the David Weill collection, Paris, is illustrated ibid., pl. 435 (a). Two further related examples in various poses are also illustrated p. 435 (c and d), and the author attributes the entire group to the Shaanxi region. However, of all of the published examples, the present example appears to be the largest and most powerfully and sensitively carved.