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Work Guardian Lion at the Entrance to a Chapel of the Serapeum of Saqqara

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Lion qui gardait l'entrée d'une chapelle du Sérapéum de Saqqara

© 1993 RMN / Christian Larrieu

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Elisabeth David

This lion, which looks like a large cat at rest, does not comply with the usual image we hold of the fearsome Egyptian sphinx. This unusual sculpture, created under the reign of Amenophis III circa 1400-1350 BC, is best known through statues from the fourth century BC or later. The Louvre's lion, which comes from the Serapeum of Saqqara, forms a pair with a symmetrical lion that once greeted visitors at the first pylon of the temple.

An Agreeable Lion

The lion is reclining, its hindquarters slumped to its right side, and its tail curled around toward the front of the body. The front right paw is turned upright, with the pads facing upward, while the left paw is crossed over the right. The rear paws are also crossed. The animal's raised head is turned to the left, while its eyes (still with traces of dark paint) stare at visitors approaching the monument. The overall pose is a naturalistic depiction of a feline at rest and relaxed, but nevertheless alert.

An Unusual Pose

This original image of a lion first appeared as a colossal work (slightly more than two meters long) at Soleb in Nubia, in the jubilee temple of Amenophis III. A tiny reclining lion, in the same position though with its tongue sticking out, also decorates the cover of an alabaster unguent recipient that belonged to Tutankhamen. This particular representation was used again only much later, probably not before the Thirtieth Dynasty, on two symmetrical pieces with the name of Nectanebo I, made of granodiorite; the origin is unknown. They were found in Rome, where they had already been taken by the twelfth century AD. Identical lions supposedly lined the dromos (processional way) leading to the Behbeit el-Haggar Temple in the Delta. The four other limestone animals discovered in Saqqara - three of which are in the Louvre - are extremely similar to those of Nectanebo. Totally anepigraphic, they probably date from the renovation of the Serapeum undertaken by the kings of the Thirtieth Dynasty.


Catalogue de l'exposition Egyptomania, Paris, 1994, p. 345-347

Technical description

  • Lion qui gardait l'entrée d'une chapelle du Sérapéum de Saqqara

    378 - 361 avant J.-C., règne de Nectanébo Ier (30e dynastie)

  • calcaire

    H. : 0,56 cm. ; l. : 1,24 m. ; L. : 0,45 m.

  • N 432 B

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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