This bronze lion was found in the nineteenth century in Monzon de Campos in Palencia, Spain. It was discovered by the Spanish painter Mariano Fortuny in a palace which was recaptured by Christians in the eleventh century from Islamic forces in Spain. It appears to be an intricately decorated water vessel. Its mouth would have served as a spout while its body held water, but it is likely that this piece was used purely for decoration in the context of a fountain. The bronze material, intricate detail, and Kufic inscription indicate that this was a luxury good.
It is now housed in the Louvre Museum.
This bronze statue is highly stylized. It rests on its tucked hind legs with its front legs extended. The mouth is wide open to serve as a waterspout. There is a large hole in the underbelly of the lion. This underbelly is where water would have been held, so the hole suggests that this statue was a decorative rather than a practical water vessel. The body is covered in engraved decorations such as the parallel curls that depict the mane. This lion was likely a decorative piece of a fountain. Fountains were very important to the aesthetics of Islamic Spain.
Along the flank is a kufic inscription. Kufic inscription is an early Islamic style of handwritten alphabet. It was used by Muslims to record the Qur'an. This script was used on tombstones, coins, and for inscriptions on buildings and statues. This inscription offers general good wishes to the owner. These inscriptions are typical of secular luxury items. This level of intricacy would have required a significant amount of time from the maker. This, as well as the inscription, indicate that this was a luxury item that could have been owned by a wealthy family, ruler, or ta'if.
This piece is often compared to similar lion statues found in Egypt which date back to the Fatimid Empire. Though it is less grand than the bronze items produced in Egypt, it does indicate the trade of aesthetic ideas between these two Islam ruled territories. It adds evidence to our knowledge of a commercial relationship between Spain and Egypt. It is likely that Islamic Spain imported bronze and other precious metals from resource rich Egypt during this period (Constable, 1996).
Local Historical ContextEdit
Lions are associated with courtly, royal imagery. They held a special popularity in Spain (Dodds, 1992). The Monzon Lion existed in a rapidly changing political atmosphere. Al-Andalus was the Muslim territory comprised of several portions of Spain and Portugal (Kennedy, 1997). With the death of al-Mansur, the Ummayad Caliphate which had reigned for years fell. Al-Andalus split into many smaller kingdoms ruled by ta'ifs. These regions were not politically strong, but they were centers of culture where art flourished.
The Almohads took control from 1130-1269. This consolidated Islamic rule throughout North Africa and Spain. This empire began as a very religiously and militarily strict empire. They attempted to start a movement back to traditional Islamic values. They partook in the trend of creating lavish, ornate structures and other luxury items such as this decorative fountain piece. The movement for traditional Islam did not survive, so several schools of thought on the religion co-existed under the Almohads. Under the Almohads, the arts and trade flourished. There was solidarity in the Islam world under this strong empire.
Over time, an atmosphere of war among Muslims prevailed. This created an opportunity for Christian Spain and other Europeans to launch a Reconquista to retake Spain. In 1085, they retook Toledo, but no other progress was made. Political instability within the Almohad empire made them vulnerable. Their Maghribi army suffered a loss in the Battle de Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. After this, Cordoba fell in 1236. By 1250, all Almohad power had collapsed. Civil wars between different Islamic groups broke out, and Spain was able to retake the Muslim lands.
Despite this state of war amonst small Muslim factions and the takeover by Spanish Christians, many luxury art pieces like the Monzon Lion survived. The Spanish still made use of fine Muslim craftsmen. The Muslim Andalusi styles remained prominent throughout Spain. This particular piece was found in a Muslim palace that was retaken by Christians, but it still remained intact and in use.
This piece signifies evidence of global trade. The style is characteristic of Islamic art. Bronze sculptures that are very similar to the Monzon Lion were prevalent in Fatimid and Ayyubid Egypt. Spain shared an active commercial relationship with Egypt and other Muslim dominated regions in the twelfth century. Islamic Spain in this time was far more commercially developed than other parts of Europe under Christian rule. It opened the gates for trade with Christians throughout the Mediterranean and with other Islamic regions concentrated in North Africa.
There was also major growth in knowledge in Muslim Spain throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. During this time, large translation projects took place. Muslim scholars translated Greek knowledge into Arab and then into many other langauages. They also enhanced and expanded on this knowledge by employing major Muslim scholars in this task. This came about because according to the Qur'an gaining knowledge is the highest form of religious activity. The Muslim influence on science can be seen through scientific vocabulary. Many European scientists would go to Muslim Spain to study with Muslim scientists, so many Islamic words are still incorporated into scientific vocabulary. For example, chemistry terms such as alcohol, alkali, and niter(root of nitrate) are Arabic.
Overall, Muslims contributed much to Europe during their rule in Spain. They were able to connect Europe to other regions through trade. They made vast advancements in knowledge especially of translation and science. They also left a distinct style of art and culture which remained present long after Spanish Christians retook the land. This luxury piece remained and added evidence to our knowledge of trade, culture, and art in Muslim Spain.
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