Lion Relief


On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 02

Medieval Christians often commissioned church decorations that, in addition to their faith, expressed their sense of community identity and civic pride. This sculpture was originally placed next to the main entrance of the parish church of San Leonardo in the Spanish city of Zamora. It depicts a massive, grimacing lion trampling a serpentine dragon, a subject chosen not only for its symbolism of triumph over sin—suggesting Christ vanquishing the devil—but also because the word leo, "lion" in Latin, plays on the name of the church’s patron saint. The spiritual guide and protector of this parish community as well as the patron saint of all prisoners, Saint Leonard himself is depicted above the lion’s head, freeing two chained captives in the company of Christ (now headless), the Virgin Mary, and an angel. Yet Leonard’s namesake, the lion, became the figurehead for this parish community. In addition, the sculpture’s distinctive architectural frame evokes the scallop-patterned cupola of Zamora Cathedral, the spiritual heart of the city, and links the parish to the diocesan seat.

Lion Relief, Sandstone with traces of paint, Spanish

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