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Monumental Lion

ca. 1000-1200

Associated with imperial authority, or as the guardian of the throne, a temple or a tomb, the lion is one of the most universal symbols of courage, majesty, strength and power. This one is exceptional in terms of size and function, and constitutes one of the most important medieval works of the Islamic tradition in the Mediterranean area. Created at the meeting point of the East and the West, it is generally regarded as a product of Islamic Spain but could also be the work of itinerant artists in the part of Italy under Norman rule. Metallographic analysis of this bronze, cast in one piece by means of the lost-wax method, has established that the copper came from a Cypriot mine known in ancient times to Arab craftsmen and geographers. Comparable only to the Andalusian Pisa Griffin as a piece of animal statuary, it displays a combination of accentuated stylisation and Arabic inscriptions that encapsulates the attraction and the particular role of the arts of Islam in Sicily, North Africa and Spain in the late 11th and early 12th century, one of the most creative periods in their history. Various hypotheses have been put forward as to the function of this monumental statue. The tubular orifice in the mouth, the opening in the belly and the hollow body may suggest part of a fountain like those at Madinat al-zahra and the Alhambra, or a monumental perfume-burner of the kind found in the Iranian province of Khorasan. A more recent theory based on the internal structure shows, however, that the lion was a kind of mechanical toy designed to emit sounds. With the hollow body acting as a resonance chamber, the air escaping from a tube connected to the mouth would have produced a sound similar to the roaring of a wild beast. Similar devices are attested in the Byzantine era, when the courts were filled with mechanical toys such as “singing” silver trees teeming with twittering birds, and howling animals worked by a pneumatic system. Arab texts and chronicles describe the fascination of scholars with these automata. Al-Jazari, one of the most famous, provided an illustrated description in the 13th century of complex water clocks and other hydraulic or pneumatic devices that were to inspire still more sophisticated automata during the European Renaissance, like those of Leonardo da Vinci.

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi/ Photo: Herve Lewandowski

Artwork Details

Title: Monumental Lion
Geography: Spain or southern Italy
Date: ca. 1000-1200

Medium: bronze

Classification: sculpture
Dimensions: 73 x 81 x 45 cm
Inventory number: LAD 2017.002
Contact for images: [email protected]


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