Look Back: Art History / Other

Ten Bizarre Lions in Art History

Lions can be symbols of power, strength, pride, courage and even gentleness. It’s no wonder that artists have struggled to capture the essence of such a magnificent beast. And yet some attempts seem particularly shaky. Here, for your beginning-of-the-week enjoyment are ten of the most questionable attempts and portraying the king of the jungle.

1. The rubber stamp of doom

1.Impost block (dosseret) carved with a scene of Daniel in the Lions' Den. End of 4th century or beginning of 5th century, Basilica of Tigzirt, Algeria. Sandstone, 50 x 55 cm.

Impost block (dosseret) carved with a scene of Daniel in the Lions’ Den. End of 4th century or beginning of 5th century, Basilica of Tigzirt, Algeria. Sandstone, 50 x 55 cm.

When it comes to images of lions, the story of Daniel and the lions’ den has provided a template for weirdness for generations of artists. Here it seems like Daniel could have crushed these two miniature horses using only the power of his enormous hands.

2. Flower power

Capital: Daniel in the Lion's Den, Anzy-le-Duc Church, 11th century.

Capital: Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Anzy-le-Duc Church, 11th century.

Daniel looking glum while being licked by two unrecognizable creatures. Points for efforts for including the manes, though these do look at bit like pot bellied pigs in wigs.

3. Misery loves company

Portal Detail: Daniel in the lions’ Den, St-Trophime Arles, 12th century.

Portal Detail: Daniel in the lions’ Den, St-Trophime Arles, 12th century.

This attempt is actually quite like how you might picture a lion today. The accuracy is undercut by the collection of expressions – the one on the left seems to have been thrown for a particular loop.

3. Broccoli Forest Brawl

"Yvain rescues the lion", miniature from Garrett MS. No. 125 (ca. 1295) kept at Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library

“Yvain rescues the lion”, miniature from Garrett MS. No. 125 (ca. 1295) kept at Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Now an image from an Arthurian legend. Here, a knight on a wooden horse cuts a small kangaroo in half to rescue a blue lion. Note that the right hand tree sports a particularly lovely branch.

4. “Pardon me…”

Aquamanile in the Form of Samson and the Lion, late 14th century, German, Copper alloy. 5.13 7/16 x 5 1/2 x 14 15/16 in. s

Aquamanile in the Form of Samson and the Lion, late 14th century, German, Copper alloy. 5. 13 7/16 x 5 1/2 x 14 15/16 in. s

This German jug shows a scene from the Bible where Samson tears a lion in half at the jaws. This piece makes it look like there’s been some terrible misunderstanding. Perhaps Samson has been confused by the lion’s dainty toes.

5. Sheepish

A late 17th Century Dutch representation of a lion from UCL Art Museum

A late 17th Century Dutch representation of a lion from UCL Art Museum

6. The Sunflower Necklace

Delft polychrome figure of a lion, 18th century, 18 cm high.

Delft polychrome figure of a lion, 18th century, 18 cm high.

A cheerful addition to any home.

7. “Hey, that looks just like a …”

Lion Rock, Dovedale, Francis Frith, 1850s to 1870s (photographed), Whole-plate albumen print from wet collodion glass negative.

Lion Rock, Dovedale, Francis Frith, 1850s to 1870s (photographed), Whole-plate albumen print from wet collodion glass negative.

Today, Lion Rock in Dovedale looks quite a lot like a lion. For the Victorians, it looked quite a lot like an angry old woman.

8. The Quarrel

Isaac Findler, Daniel and the Lions Den, Oil on canvas, 94.9 x 80.8 cm

Isaac Findler, Daniel and the Lions Den, Oil on canvas, 94.9 x 80.8 cm

It’s hard to know if this is meant to be stylized or is just a disaster – the lion in the front looks particularly aggrieved to have a head larger than the rest of his body. One thing is for sure – in this retelling of the story, Daniel was dropped into the middle of lion family argument and did his best to be inconspicuous.

9. The Burden of Responsibility 

Britannia Bridge, 1850, John Thomas.

Britannia Bridge, 1850, John Thomas.

Four of these beasts are stationed around the Welsh Britannia Bridge. It’s now impossible to see them from the motorway. It’s safe to say that the lack of attention might be wearing — but a distant relative does crop up again in the 1990’s as Aladdin’s cave of wonders.

10. King of the Jungles

World Cup Willie, mascot of the 1966 World Cup in England designed by Reg Hoye

World Cup Willie, mascot of the 1966 World Cup in England designed by Reg Hoye

This was the 1966 World Cup Mascot . Lions have been symbols of power in England for time untold, due to their sensible shoes and pink Beatles haircuts.

Now I’m not the first to notice the state of lions in art — also check out the Bad Lions blog over at Blogspot. Here you can find such classics as the Lowry Lion Statue at Berwick-upon-Tweed and sports an impressive collection of poorly taxidermed animals.

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