Study of the iconography of the lion in Islamic art
Adey, Elizabeth June
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Throughout the centuries, the lion has generally been acknowledged as a symbol of power in numerous cultures. It exercises magic and talismanic functions as a sign of the zodiac. The lion as the king of the beasts has long fascinated and challenged man. It plays a large part in the decorative arts and mythologies of many cultures and Islam is no exception. The aim of this thesis is to determine the range of meaning attributed to the lion as a motif in Islamic art, through its use in the decorative arts, miniature painting and textiles. A catalogue of some four hundred and sixty examples of the lion as an iconographic symbol on carpets, ceramics, metalwork, stone, textiles and other media has been drawn up. Within each category pieces have been arranged in chronological sequence and their motifs have been identified. The aim has been to assemble a reasonable sample of works upon which to base an investigation of the role of the lion in Islamic art. The text analyses the themes found in the catalogue. Each motif is placed in its historical context with reference to the antecedents of the decorative design and the likely meaning in an Islamic context, supported where possible by writings of the period. Chapter One addresses briefly the description and illustration of the lion in Muslim scientific texts. Chapter Two analyses the lion-bull combat theme. Chapter Three opens with a discussion of images showing man hunting the lion and concludes with a discussion of the lion in association with other animals. Chapter Four discusses two literary works often illustrated with miniatures depicting lions - namely the Kalila wa Dimna tales and the Shahnama. It closely analyses the texts for descriptions of the lion and what it may symbolise in a given context. Chapter Five embraces a diversity of motifs including the image of the lion as found on Islamic coins, lion-masks, lion and throne imagery, the lion-tree motif in textiles and the lion as a single image. Chapter Six discusses the zodiac and the lion as an astrological symbol. Conclusions are drawn in Chapter Seven. The thesis aims to assess the art-historical evidence for the use of the lion in Islamic art. It endeavours to provide a firm basis from which to study the significance of the lion in medieval Muslim culture. Literary and historical evidence is brought in where appropriate in order to elucidate the meaning of the visual imagery. Much work still remains to be done, but the collecting together of a range of pieces bearing a variety of iconographical interpretations of the lion is a vital step in determining the role of this animal in Islamic art and culture.