Today we met a friend and had a wander around London before going the the British Museum which is full of wonders apparently without end.
It turned out to be a day of lions, starting with this one on Edith Cavell’s monument in Trafalgar Square. Symbolizing fortitude, this is an archetypal British lion of the kind used by the Victorians to represent the Empire. He is fearless and strong and contemplates the future with a steadfast gaze. I think we could do with some of his qualities today.
In the Great Court of the British Museum, we came upon the Lion of Knidos. Despite the loss of his front paws and the erosion of time, he still has a calm and noble demeanour. His age is disputed but he certainly dates to at least the 2nd century BC.
The Assyrian civilization was in its own way as glittering as its more famous rival, Ancient Egypt. Its art was less conventionalized and more naturalistic. This roaring lion must have been one of a pair that once guarded the entrance to a temple or a palace. The artist has overcome the stillness of rock to impart a dynamism to his figure.
Still with the Assyrians, this panel shows, on the left, an ugallu, a protective spirit that takes the form of a semi human lion.
I could have collected a lot of Assyrian lion pictures because lion hunts were popular and many surviving panels represent hunts with arrow-pierced dead and dying lions. However, that is something over which I prefer to draw a veil.
I like the way this lion has one paw crossed over the other, showing his is in relaxed mood. Dating to about 1400 years BC, this lion started life in Egypt at the temple of Amenophis III. With its companion, it was carried to the Sudan in the 3rd century BC.
This, our final lion, reminds me of Freya when she sharpens her claws on the carpet! Maybe this lion which, sadly eroded as it is still shows a liveliness in its pose, was about to spring at his prey. He comes from the Nereid Monument in southern Turkey and dates from the early 300s BC.
That was our final lion but I have one more picture to show you. Lions are cats and my favourite cat in the British Museum is the Gayer-Anderson cat from Ancient Egypt.
Dating to the Late Period, this beautiful work represents a cat but no ordinary cat. Bedecked with jewellery and wearing a protective amulet, this cat is an avatar of the Goddess Bastet. Nothing prevents us from seeing it simply as a cat, though, the most regal and noble of cats, seated in living stillness throughout the ages and bringing us something of the essence of the Pharaonic civilization.
While that civilization’s painted art was highly stylized, its sculpture could be naturalistic and portray people and animals that seem to live and breathe before our eyes.