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Visitor trails A Lion Hunt, French Sculptures

Sculptures - Length: 1 hr 30 mins - Tour days: Monday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

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Lion and Snake
Lion and Snake

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

00Introduction

Artists have always admired the king of the jungle for his magnificence and strength. In biblical and mythological stories, both mortals and heroes test their strength against the lion. This trail is designed to follow its tracks through the history of art. Ready for a lion hunt?

The lion is a regal animal that radiates strength and power. Images of the lion have traversed the centuries. In some Bible stories and mythological tales, its role is to demonstrate the superiority of God (or the gods): when a human being is given divine power, he can overcome a lion. The lion was a creature of legend in medieval times. As a symbol of divine superiority and an allegory of strength, it was considered an ideal guardian for the eternal sleep of the dead, which is why a lion is often to be seen near a tomb. But lions can also be savage creatures and fearsome enemies, so some sculptures show them attacking other animals or people. By exploring the decorative and symbolic use of the lion in sculpture, you will discover a whole range of artistic styles: Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, Mannerist, classical, baroque, and Romantic.

 

How to get to the next stop:

The hunt begins in the Hall Napoléon. Head toward the Richelieu wing. Turn left then right into the Cour Marly, climb the stairs to the terrace, and turn left. On the landing, go into Room 1 (on your right) to see some medieval sculptures.

Daniel in the lions' den
Daniel in the lions' den

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

01A pair of lions as gentle as lambs

Lions were creatures of legend for the people of the Middle Ages. As they had never seen any, they represented them in a very stylized way: look at these lions' manes, with their rounded curls. This sculpture shows the miracle of Daniel in the lions' den. A sad and thoughtful Daniel rests his head on his fist, calmly and fearlessly waiting for the lions on either side of him to attack. King Darius of Persia had sentenced Daniel to be thrown into the lions' den to punish him for having disobeyed his orders by praying to God instead of to Darius himself. Daniel was saved by an angel, sent by God to close the hungry lions' mouths.
This block is a capital that once sat atop a column. The figures were designed as a perfect fit for the shape of the capital, with Daniel in the middle and the lions placed symmetrically on either side. Medieval capitals, like ancient ones, had scrolls at the corners which are emphasized here by the lions' heads. Daniel's head is placed in the center, which was usually decorated with a rosette.

This sculpture is typical of the "Romanesque" style that flourished in Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. Romanesque decorative motifs were very simple, and designed to fit perfectly into their frame. They were essentially intended to spread God's word to the faithful who could not read, and depicted Old Testament stories of the life of Jesus and the saints. Art was devoted to the "glory of God and the good of mankind."

How to get to the next stop:

The next work is opposite you, in front of the window—the first exhibit on the left.

Les Symboles des évangélistes et le Christ remettant les clefs à saint Pierre
Les Symboles des évangélistes et le Christ remettant les clefs à saint Pierre

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

02The Lion of St. Mark

This sculpture from the abbey of Saint-Pons-de-Thomières is a double capital on two small columns. The lion forms a bridge, its body spanning the capital, its legs on the cylindrical columns. The highly simplified figures are deformed to fit the rectangular block. The lion, for example, straddles the gap between the two columns, its wings curving to fill the voids. An eagle grasping the Gospel in its claws forms the corner of the capital. These figures are the symbols of the evangelists who wrote the story of Jesus in the Gospels. They are known as the "Tetramorph", "tetra" being the Greek word for "four" and "morph" meaning "form". The lion symbolizes St. Mark, the bull St. Luke, the eagle St. John, and the man St. Matthew. These four creatures appear in the Book of Revelations (or the "Apocalypse") by St. John, in which he describes the end of time: "...round about the throne were four beasts, full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings."

The lion in this sculpture has wings, as do the other symbols of the evangelists. Its head is crowned with a halo, a sign of sainthood.

How to get to the next stop:

Go toward Room 5. Turn right, then go straight ahead: the next sculpture is at the entrance to Room 9.

Charles IV Le Bel (died 1328) and Jeanne d'Évreux (died 1371)
Charles IV Le Bel (died 1328) and Jeanne d'Évreux (died 1371)

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Thierry Ollivier

03Lions keeping watch

Lions began to be portrayed far more realistically during this period, as artists could observe them in the royal menageries. This lion is distinguished from the lioness by its mane. The medieval bestiary (an illustrated book with descriptions of animals) described the lion as brave and strong. On tombs, it was placed at the feet of knights. Dogs, symbols of loyalty, kept watch at the feet of their wives, and unmarried women were guarded by unicorns, symbols of purity. Lions were thought to sleep with their eyes open, which made them ideal guardians. They also symbolized resurrection: medieval people believed that lion cubs were stillborn, and that the lion breathed life into them. King Charles the Fair and his wife have youthful, smiling faces that express the Christian belief in Resurrection. They are smaller than life, as the tomb was designed to hold only their entrails (represented by the little bag each figure holds to its chest). It was the custom for a noble to have several tombs: one for the body, one for the heart, and one for the entrails.

The dominant art form in the West between the mid-12th century and the Renaissance is known as "Gothic". The figures were more lifelike (smiling faces), and were positioned to suggest movement. The great cathedrals were built during this period, and a great deal of sculpture was produced to decorate church portals, tombs, and houses.

How to get to the next stop:

Go toward Room 10 then continue straight ahead as far as Room 12: the next exhibit on the trail is in front of you.

Bustes en orant de Philippe de Commynes (vers 1457 - 1511) et de son épouse Hélène de Chambes-Montsoreau ( † 1531)
Bustes en orant de Philippe de Commynes (vers 1457 - 1511) et de son épouse Hélène de Chambes-Montsoreau ( † 1531)

© Musée du Louvre / P. Philibert

04Every lion has a tale to tell...

Each prie-dieu (prayer stool) is decorated with a lion whose rounded chest suggests strength. Above the two statues are two shields with carved symbols: the coat of arms of each sculpted figure. One coat of arms, showing a standing lion ready to pounce, is that of Hélène de Chambes, the wife of Philippe de Commynes who served Charles the Bold and became an influential diplomat during the reigns of Louis XI and Charles VIII. Many coats of arms featured heraldic lions. This one is shown standing on its hind legs, front paws raised. Another lion can be seen on one of the bas-relief sculptures decorating the chapel which tell the story of Samson. The latter is shown slaying the lion that attacked him; above him is the donkey's jawbone with which he killed a thousand philistines; the fox evokes the episode in which he attached flaming torches to the tails of three hundred foxes that he then let loose in the Philistines’ corn fields to burn their crops; and the broken column is a reference to the temple of the god Dagon that Samson destroyed by leaning against a pillar.

The period called the "Renaissance" (meaning "rebirth") began in France in the 16th century, and marked a break with the Middle Ages. It was so called as it saw the revival of classical art and philosophy. Secular art also developed alongside art devoted to religious themes.

How to get to the next stop:

Head toward the Renaissance sculptures in Room 14. The next work—the Lion of St. Mark—is on your left.

Saint Marc
Saint Marc

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

05Another Lion of St. Mark

This delicately carved bas-relief was once in the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois in Paris. It decorated the rood-screen (the screen between the nave, where the congregation gathers, and the choir at the back of the church, reserved for the clergy). It shows St. Mark holding the Gospel, and his symbol the lion. Jean Goujon focused on the figure of the Evangelist; only the paws and mane distinguish the animal as a lion, its face being rather flat and lacking in realism. The artist placed St. Mark on clouds in the sky, to show that the subject of the work is a divine revelation. He left large areas smooth and empty, without decoration, to highlight the figure and make the scene easier to understand. Although the stone is not very thick, Goujon gave the illusion of depth by creating a foreground (the saint’s left leg, nearest the viewer) and a background (his right leg, which is further away). Rather than showing St. Mark full face, he positioned him in a three-quarter pose. The turning movement, elongated fingers, and strong musculature belong to a style of European Renaissance art known as “Mannerism”. The Mannerist movement was inspired by Michelangelo’s maniera (or “style”), which young artists attempted to reproduce. It is characterized by elongated forms and complex, twisted poses creating multiple viewpoints.

How to get to the next stop:

In Room 15, keep to the left of the gallery’s central wall. You will see a sculpture of David on your right.

David Vanquishing Goliath
David Vanquishing Goliath

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

06The lion killed by David

David is represented as a young man wearing the laurel crown that symbolizes victory, after killing Goliath. He is leaning on the sword of the giant whose severed head lies at his feet; he holds the sling in his left hand and a stone in his right. The shepherd’s crook and lion skin evoke his exploits with the wild animals that tried to devour his flock when he was a humble shepherd. David, the shepherd boy and future king of Jerusalem, killed the lions that attacked his flock. One day, he met the giant Goliath who challenged him to a duel. David agreed to fight, though his only weapons were his crook and sling. He threw a stone that struck Goliath on the forehead. The giant collapsed; David took his sword, and cut off his head. Look upward from the giant’s head to that of the lion, then to that of the future king of Jerusalem. There are many similarities between Goliath’s head and that of the animal: both have half-closed eyes and an open mouth, and the giant’s beard looks rather like the lion’s mane.

This sculpture is another example of Mannerism: the diagonals and spirals are accentuated, and David's pose is unbalanced and very unnatural. Artists liked to portray naked heroes, as this allowed them to celebrate the strength and beauty of the human body.

How to get to the next stop:

Go straight ahead. On your left is the Monument for the heart of Duke Henri of Longueville.

Funerary monument for the heart of Duke Henri I of Longueville (1564-1595) and his son Henri II of Longueville (1595-1663)
Funerary monument for the heart of Duke Henri I of Longueville (1564-1595) and his son Henri II of Longueville (1595-1663)

© 1999 RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda

07An allegory of strength

This monument once stood in a Parisian church that no longer exists. It was built to the memory of a hero, a comrade-in-arms of King Henri IV of France. The sculptor borrowed elements from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art, and blended them to create a new and very personal style. This monument was inspired by Egyptian obelisks, but rather than decorating it with hieroglyphs, the sculptor used motifs that represent the virtues of the dead hero (his portrait, symbols of the arts, military trophies). A female statue at each of the four corners illustrates the cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. A character that is used to represent an abstract idea is called an "allegory". Here, Fortitude is personified by the woman wearing a breastplate. She holds the club of Hercules and wears the skin of the Nemean lion—a monster that Hercules killed as one of the twelve labors imposed upon him by the gods. Another lion, on one of the bas-reliefs near the figure of Fortitude, is shown attacking a wild boar in a combat that evokes the lion's strength, but also its intelligence: the boar charges headlong at its enemy, while the crafty lion saves its strength.

The dominant artistic style in 17th-century France (during the reigns of Henri IV, Louis XII, and Louis XIV) is known as "classical": like Renaissance art, it was inspired by Antiquity. It is a style with calm, balanced, and harmonious compositions—a highly intellectualized and well-planned art form that revived the ancient hero cult, and was frequently put to the service of kings, who liked to be compared to Hercules or the great conquerors of the past.

How to get to the next stop:

Retrace your steps to the entrance to the Renaissance room. Go into the Cour Marly: the next work, Fame, is on your right.

Fame Mounted on Pegasus
Fame Mounted on Pegasus

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

08The Nemean lion

The Bourbon kings Henri IV, Louis XII, and especially Louis XIV (the Sun King) built up a veritable propaganda campaign based on their image. In this work, the statue of Fame sounds his trumpet to announce the victories of Louis XIV to the world. In mythology, the winged horse Pegasus helped Perseus slay the dragon Cetus; here, Pegasus is a poetic symbol of the king's victories. The military trophies strewn on the ground represent the battles that were won and the peace treaty that was concluded (the Treaty of Ryswick, 1697). The weapons under the horse's body support the huge mass of the marble block—a technical masterpiece in terms of size. The sculptor carved deep into the marble to clear the horse's legs, which give the overall work an impression of power and movement. The paws of the Nemean lion's skin (symbolizing Hercules, to whom Louis XIV was often compared) are draped like a cloak over the armor. The mythological hero Hercules was the son of Jupiter and a mortal woman, and was famed for his strength. The gods set him twelve tasks, the first of which was to kill the Nemean lion, whose skin could not be pierced by weapons. Hercules strangled it, and ever after wore its skin as protection. The club and lion skin became the attributes (or symbols) of Hercules, by which he can be identified. This courtyard contains marble and bronze statues from the Château de Marly, which was built for Louis XIV near the famous Château de Versailles. The Château de Marly was destroyed in the 19th century, and only the park remains.

How to get to the next stop:

Go down the stairs, leave the Cour Marly and make your way toward the Cour Puget. At the bottom of the stairs, on the wall facing the Slaves, you will see the bronze relief of The Treaty of Nijmegen. It's the third exhibit on the left.

La Paix de Nimègue
La Paix de Nimègue

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

09The lion and the lamb

This work contains a secret message, to which only Louis XIV (in the center of the composition) holds the key. The king is shown in front of the temple of Janus (recognizable by the two-faced head of Janus on the pediment), whose doors were closed in times of peace. The god Janus represents prudence. He has two faces because Jupiter’s father Saturn gave him the power to see both past and future. The allegory of Peace, identifiable by her olive branch, leads a lion and a lamb—symbols of strength and prosperity—on a leash. The king presents her to a female figure representing Europe at war; military trophies lie upturned at her feet. The allegory of History, behind the king, notes his heroic deeds on a tablet to preserve them for posterity. Justice stands to the left, brandishing her sword and holding the scales which indicate the spirit of fairness in which the peace treaty was made. Above the other figures, Fame proclaims the victories and greatness of the king. The Duke de La Feuillade commissioned this bronze sculpture to the glory of Louis XIV from the sculptor Desjardins, to decorate the base of the statue of Louis on the Place des Victoires in Paris. It represents the treaty of Nijmegen, which put an end to several years of war. It was signed by France, Holland, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire in 1678 and 1679.

How to get to the next stop:

Climb the stairs facing you; the next work—a sculpture by Puget—is on your right.

Milo of Croton
Milo of Croton

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Philippe Fuzeau

10A vanquished hero

Milo was an athlete who had won many victories at the Olympic Games. In his old age, he wanted to prove to himself that he was still as strong as in his youth: he tried to split a tree trunk with his bare hands, but it closed up and trapped his hand. A wolf appeared and devoured Milo, who could not escape.

The sculptor Puget added to the dramatic effect by replacing the wolf with a lion—a wilder and crueler creature. We are reminded of Milo’s past as a victorious athlete by the cup that now lies on the ground. Puget played on contrasts to increase the intensity and violence of the scene: the tall figure of Milo, for example, contrasts with the crouching body of the lion attacking its prey. He also added to the dramatic impact with effects of light and shade, obtained by alternating polished surfaces that reflect the light with duller mat surfaces that the sculptor streaked with a rasp. The style known as "baroque" developed alongside the classical movement; it is characterized by a taste for the spectacular, the use of illusion, an exuberance of forms, and a preference for movement and expression. This art form originated in Italy; it was less severe than the classical style, but was not very successful in France. Pierre Puget was a very important figure among the great French sculptors of the 17th century. He lived in Marseille, far from the court and other artists. The contrast and dynamism of his style reflects the spirit of French baroque.

How to get to the next stop:

Go up to the next floor. The next exhibit on the trail—a sculpture by Barye—is in the rooms facing the stairs. Turn right toward Room 31; the Lion Hunt is in Room 33, in a glass cage facing the window, together with other sculptures by the same artist.

The Lion Hunt
The Lion Hunt

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

11A combat of wild beasts

This sculpture is part of a group by the same artist that includes a lion devouring a wild boar. These two plaster studies were designed for a large table centerpiece for Louis-Philippe's son, the Duc d'Orléans. A table centerpiece is a highly ornate tray designed to decorate the center of the table and hold salt shakers, spice boxes, sugar bowls, etc. The turbaned horsemen, shown engaged in a fierce struggle with African animals, express exoticism and the fiery romantic spirit. The bodies of the men, horses, lions, and buffalo are intermingled in a writhing group that intensifies the action and heightens the sense of panic. Everything happens fast when the lion attacks! The lion is attacking the buffalo, the man is attacking the lion, the lioness is attacking the horse. Barye was an “animal sculptor” who was passionately interested in the study of animals. The display cases contain bronze sculptures of lions, but also dogs, elephants, and gazelles. Barye and his artist friend Eugène Delacroix liked to study the big cats at the zoo in the Jardin des Plantes, and practice drawing them as accurately as possible. You can see Delacroix's paintings in the Sully wing on the second floor.

How to get to the next stop:

To see the last work on this trail, retrace your steps to leave these rooms, and go to the bronze lion facing you on the landing.

Lion and Snake
Lion and Snake

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

12An unequal fight

For the first time, here is a life-sized lion that really seems to be roaring! Plenty of details show that Barye spent long hours studying his subject at the Jardin des Plantes. The lion’s morphology and attitude are remarkably precise. The tensed muscles, bristling fur, and sharp claws pinning the snake to the ground are sculpted with great attention to realism. Bronze cannot be sculpted like stone; it is melted and poured into a mold. This sculpture evokes the July monarchy, which was proclaimed in 1830. The Lion is the astrological sign of the month of July, so this work was probably a tribute to King Louis-Philippe: the lion representing the monarchy crushes the snake, which symbolizes evil and the king's enemies. Although Barye had studied animals, he can never have seen a fight like this; his work is a romantic interpretation.

Romanticism developed in France in the 19th century, in opposition to the classical style that dominated in the early 19th century and advocated the moral values of Antiquity. The Romantic artists found their subjects in current events, the picturesque, nature. They followed the same path as the great writers of the day such as Victor Hugo, Chateaubriand, and Alexandre Dumas. They rediscovered wild, untamed nature, and represented the wild and violent side of fighting animals such as lions, tigers, snakes, and rhinoceroses.

How to get to the next stop:

To get back to the pyramid, take the escalators facing you, and turn right toward the exit. The guardian lion, the lion as a symbol or allegory, the mild or the wild lion… we've hunted down all kinds, but there are plenty more to be seen next time you visit!