The Dying Lion, a stone panel from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal
Nineveh, northern Iraq
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.
Struck by one of the king’s arrows, blood gushes from the lion’s mouth. Veins stand out on its face. 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.
Source: British Museum