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Lions and Bulls, Oh My!

A Frequent Theme in Roman Mosaic Art?

A Frequent Theme in Roman Mosaic Art?

At our visit to the Getty Villa on Wednesday, I was surprised to see so many works depicting lions eating other large, powerful beasts. There was a special exhibit entitled “Roman Mosaics Across the Empire.” (Follow the link and you will see a lion biting into a surprisingly nonchalant horse.) The image that caught my eye, however, was the one above, in which a lion is chasing what looks like a Brahma bull.

Roman mosaics can be stunningly beautiful. I remember a show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art years ago which included various objects retrieved from the ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum. The mosaics in this exhibit, taken from the Naples Museum of Archaeology, were particularly beautiful—probably because the Romans during that period were more advanced in their art than those of the later Empire, from which most of the works in this special exhibit were drawn.

There were numerous lions, particularly in funerary monuments. Although I do not recall reading anything about lions during Roman times, I am surprised that they appear prominently in so many mosaics and pieces of statuary.