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The Dying Lion

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    1992,0404.1

  • Title (object)

    • The Dying Lion
  • Description

    Gypsum wall-panel relief: the lion itself is squatting on its haunches, facing right. It has been mortally wounded by an arrow that has penetrated deep into its chest from above the shoulder. Blood is gushing out of the mouth of the beast, and it is straining every muscle and sinew in a last futile attempt to stay upright. The veins on its head are standing out, its eyes are beginning to glaze over, and it is desperately gripping the ground with its claws.

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  • Authority

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 645BC-640BC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 16.5 centimetres
    • Width: 30 centimetres
    • Thickness: 2.5 centimetres (extant)
  • Curator's comments

    Although the suffering of the animal is horrible to behold, the sculptor has perfectly captured the animal in its death-throes, and we see here a naturalism that is rarely encountered in Assyrian art.

    This small alabaster panel was part of a series of wall panels that showed a royal hunt. It has long been acclaimed as a masterpiece; the skill of the Assyrian artist in the observation and realistic portrayal of the animal is clear.

    It has been suggested that scenes such as this imply that the artists had some degree of sympathy with the victims of the Assyrian king, rather than with their patron as a mighty hunter. Lions were regarded, however, as symbolising everything hostile to urban civilisation, and it is more probable that people looking at scenes like this were 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.

    Bibliography:
    "Treasures of the World's Cultures: The British Museum after 250 Years" catalogue entry
    J. E. Reade, 'Assyrian sculpture' (London, The British Museum Press, 1998), 72-79, fig. 8;1
    J. E. Curtis, The dying lion, 'Iraq' 54 (1992), 113-18.

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  • Bibliography

    • Curtis & Reade 1995a 30 bibliographic details
    • Curtis & Reade 1994a 30 bibliographic details
    • British Museum 2011a p.154, cat.126 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G55/dc13

  • Exhibition history

    2013 - 2014 22 June - 6 Jan, Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, 'Mesopotamia, Inventing Our World'

    2013: 30 Jan-13 May, Museum of History, Hong Kong, 'The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia'

    2012: 4 May-7 Oct, Melbourne Museum, 'The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia'

    2011 28 March-26 June, Abu Dhabi, Manarat Al Saadiyat, 'Splendours of Mesopotamia'
    2008 21 Sept-2009 4 Jan, Boston, MFA, 'Art and Empire'
    2007 14 Sep-2 Dec, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2007 3 Feb-27 May, Taipei, National Palace Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2006 1 Jul-7 Oct, Shanghai Museum, 'Art and Empire'
    2006 18 Mar-4 Jun, Beijing, Capital Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2005 27 Oct-2006 31 Jan, Haengso Museum, Keimyung University, Daegu, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2005 25 Jul-8 Oct, Busan Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2005 11 Apr-10 Jul, Seoul Arts Centre, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1992

  • Department

    Middle East

  • Registration number

    1992,0404.1

Wall-panel relief; stone; a lion has been hit by an arrow and is dying; it squats on its haunches, facing right; the arrow has penetrated its chest; blood gushes out of its mouth as it tries to stay upright; the veins on its head stand out, its eyes are b

Wall-panel relief; stone; a lion has been hit by an arrow and is dying; it squats on its haunches, facing right; the arrow has penetrated its chest; blood gushes out of its mouth as it tries to stay upright; the veins on its head stand out, its eyes are b

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