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Animals > Lions

Lions 1

In heraldry one of the best known charges is the lion.  The lion passant contourné, left fore paw raised, tail flourishing and mouth open with tongue showing, is perfectly depicted on this panel.  However, in case any doubt remains, the word LION is written into his tumbling mane.





Lions 2

The partner panel, still with its moulded frame, shows the lion passant reguardant, looking back to admire his tail.  In this case he is holding it in his mouth making a circle and, thus, refers to the ouroboros, an ancient symbol of a serpent or dragon swallowing its own tail and representing eternal recurrence, the cyclical nature of all things, an idea discussed amongst the alchemist-physicians of the Renaissance and Reformation.





Lions 3

The panel depicts the well known scene of Daniel in the lions’ den.  Of the four great prophets, Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Daniel is the most commonly represented in art.  He was thrown into the lions’ den for disobeying the Persian King Darius but was brought food by a fellow prophet and left unharmed by the lions.  The King, amazed by the lions’ behaviour, ordered those who had plotted Daniel’s downfall to be flung into the den in his stead.  The lions devoured them instantly.

In this panel Daniel, seated on a stone slab, reads to the lions from the scriptures.  Renaissance fluted columns rise up in the background and boulders tumble to the ground to seal the prison cell door.  A skull and a limb bone emphasize Daniel’s predicament.  One lion, however, is affectionately licking his foot and has a paw placed thoughtfully over the holy books on the ground.  In the niche above Daniel’s head stands an hourglass and time is running out.

The hourglass and the skull add an extra layer of meaning to the story for they turn it into a Vanitas.  Remember we shall all die and since earthly joys are fleeting we should be prepared for the next life.


Lions 4


Carved bench ends provide accessible and outstanding examples of the work of the medieval carver.  Many terminated in poppy-head finials, others in animals, birds or men.  This pew finial shows a lion, mouth open and tongue protruding, holding a shield clasped in its front paws. He has an opulent mane and a tail that runs between his legs and flicks up over his back.  The shield has obviously been painted at some time as some of the early gesso remains.  A lancet window is carved into one side of the base.



 Lions 5


This is a later Flemish version of the previous carving.  This model was used extensively in Flanders for at least 200 years where it is known as the Lion of the Union.  He can be found in wood and stone, large and small.  This is one of a pair of a kind commonly found on staircases and overmantels, bearing a shield painted with the owner’s coat of arms. The integral base is carved with an ionic capital with a row of classical egg and dart decoration, indicating that he was probably placed originally on top of a column. 


Lions 6


This oak lion mask has a well-carved mane but the face has human qualities, a not-uncommon trait in early carving.  The lion holds a ring in its mouth, a form found since the medieval period used for sanctuary door knockers. 


Sanctuary rings or knockers can still be found on church doors held by lions or grotesques, the most famous one being at Durham Cathedral.  These were placed there for the benefit of those seeking sanctuary in the church.  If offenders dyd come and knocke straightway they were letten in at any time of the night.  This Right of Sanctuary declared that a person fleeing the law could remain safe and free from interference for a period of some 40 days and that he should be fed and guarded by the local inhabitants.  This gave the fugitive time to think over his options and was widely respected until finally abolished in 1623 by James I.

The use of this same motif was revived in the Regency period on door knockers where the lion stands watchful and on guard at the door.  The lion pictured here was used inside a building, probably on a piece of furniture and would have served as a decorative reminder of the safety of the home.