Thursday, December 12, 2013

Monticello Levy Lions

Enhanced from Library of Congress
The interesting book Saving Monticello by Marc Leepson piqued my interest about Lion Statues purchased by Jefferson Levy around 1900 when he owned Monticello. Additional details provided by Marc on his blog encouraged me to explore the history of these four life-size Lions. Apparently three had been accounted for but one Lion's current location was unknown. I live in Charlottesville where the Lions were auctioned off in 1928 so how hard could it be to find one massive Lion...

Is this Charlottesville Lion really from Monticello?
My research began with the Lion Statue reported to be one of the former Monticello Levy Lions that is in a yard in Charlottesville. I shot this photograph from my car window a month ago for my blog post about Marc Leepson's book, Saving Monticello so I had not viewed it close up. I went back to the Lion's location last week and no one was home but I walked right by it to get to the front door so I took a closer look. This Lion Statue is special, it is massive, heavy, and obviously old (no obvious maker marks were spotted). I left a note on the door and no one has contacted me.

1905 photo magnified West Portico Entry, Library of Congress.
To verify that this in fact was a Levy Lion from Monticello, I began searching online for photos pre-auction.  To make this mystery more fascinating, in Marc Leepson's account, there were a total of four Lions auctioned.  Two were on the West Portico or back non-public entry at Monticello and two were on the South side pathway leading up to the front of the home. The statues were pairs of different sets.  It is not known if the same artist created all four statues or even the name of the artist.

1914 Levy Lions w/ Shields South Path, Library of Congress
I was more than excited to find some really wonderful photos of all four Lions online at the Library of Congress. I have cropped or enhanced the photos to get a closer and clearer view of the Lion details. The Levy Lions with foot on ball that were located on the West Portico are on the backside of the oldest design of the $2.00 bill but I needed a clearer image. Apparently the bill was engraved from a photo so I began googling.

1905 South Path, Library of Congress
I never dreamed that I would find a photo of the two Lions with Shields engraved with "L" since they were on the South Entryway on a side footpath but I hit the jackpot and found two photos.

According to Marc's book, one pair of Lions was donated to Cheekwood Gardens in Nashville, Tennessee. It has been reported these were the Lions holding shields but Sarah Ritter at Cheekwood has confirmed that they have the West Portico Lions and they were donated to them in 1971. She explained that the Lions are reported to be copies of the famous statues at Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence Italy and may have previously been at Belle Meade Plantation. Cheekwood's documentation indicates the Lions were purchased in a Charlottesville Junkyard. Imagine, such beauties being dumped! The story goes... a resident of Charlottesville purchased them to give to his sister who lives in Nashville and eventually they ended up being inherited by three sisters who donated them to Cheekwood. Marc Leepson shared a historic newspaper article that read, funds were needed to restore the Lions because on transfer to Cheekwood they were damaged. It's absolutely amazing to me the journey these beautiful statues have taken ~ if Lions could talk!

Images found on google of the Cheekwood Lion Pair
Examining historic photos and online images of the lions at Cheekwood, it appears the location of one Set of Lions has been confirmed. If that is the case, then the statue in Charlottesville is not one of the Levy Lions from Monticello.

Not quite saturated, I found this interesting photo of similar Lions purchased around the same time, It appears it was popular to reproduce these famous Lions as they stood for courage, majesty, and strength.

My research leaves me with many unanswered questions. Where are the Lions with the Shields? Where did the Charlottesville Lion come from? Did any Lions go straight to the Junkyard from an unsuccessful auction? Did Belle Meade ever have any Lions and if so which pair? Who is the artist?

If anyone has any information about the Levy Lions, please leave a comment on my blog.  I would love to know more.

Otherwise it may be time to forward to the History Detectives...



  1. Do you have any idea what the source is on the lion with shield design? I see statues similar to this a lot and I was wondering if you knew the source.

  2. I don't know who made the Lions. So far I have not unearthed documentation for the maker and no marks appear in any photos. There are similar statues in cville - one at a church and another in earlysville in front of a home (they are a small version). I'm always trying to hunt these details down and thus far, a dead end.

  3. Please contact me @ in regards to questions about the Charlottesville Lion you have pictured on your blog. I have more information for you… was purchased by my grandfather at the 1923 auction of Jefferson Levy's property when Monticello was purchased & the Monticello Foundation was established. Thank you


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