The Dying Lion

We bought this relief from the British Museum in September 2013.

In April 2012 we visited the ‘Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia’ exhibit at the Melbourne Museum in Australia. The exhibit featured more than 170 artifacts. One of these significant artifacts was separated from the exhibit and displayed in the foyer, The Dying Lion. The level of detail and skill in this panel was amazing and was something that we would loved to have added to our collection. During our visit to the British Museum this year we were able to obtain a replica of the Dying Lion panel from their collection.

The original small relief sculpture was excavated from an area in present day Iraq during the 1850′s and is one of the most stunning archaeological discoveries of its era. The image of dying lion, slaughtered by bow and arrow during a royal hunt, is depicted on an alabaster panel and was part of a series of wall panels from the North Palace of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal.

From a modern viewpoint, it is tempting to think that the artist sympathized with the dying animal. However, lions were regarded as symbolizing everything that was hostile to urban civilization and it is more probable that the viewer was meant to laugh, not cry.

There was a very long tradition of royal lion hunts in Mesopotamia, with similar scenes known from the late fourth millennium BC. The connection between kingship and lions was probably brought to western Europe as a result of the crusades in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries AD, when lions begin to decorate royal coats of arms.

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