Lions in Dutch Art

Animal painting in the seventeenth century was on the rise, specifically with art that allowed the animal to be the main focus. Before the seventeenth century, it was more commonplace that the animals placed in art were part of the background, rather than the subject of the artwork.

As the demand for prints of animals increased, many of the prints created had lost a scientific accuracy. However, some of the masters, responded to this loss of realism by choosing to depict highly realistic images. Wolloch mentions that Dürer was one of these masters, and that his works helped to popularize animal imagery in art.

Wolloch concludes in his book Subjugated Animals, that it was the rise in anthropocentrism that caused a change in how humankind viewed animals. This also paved the way for the anthropomorphism that influenced how animals were depicted in art during the seventeenth century. These two ideas can been seen mixed through Le Brun's drawing.

Relationship of the human figure with that of the lion

Relationship of the Human Figure with that of the Lion

Charles Le Brun (1619-1690)

Chalk Drawing, 21.7 x 32.7 cm

French, 1671


Charles Le Brun was fascinated by the similarties between human and animal features, and was known for his drawings that featured a "dehumanized man" and a "humanized animal". I theorize that this notion of a "humanized animal" is what influenced the less scientifically accurate depictions, and that artists were focused on giving human characteristics to provide them with an ability to be a subject, rather than trying to depict them inaccurately.

Some artists tried their best to portray lions as accurately as they could, in response to the art market's demand for scientific depictions of these foreign beasts. Those that took creative risks with their renderings of lions however, probably did so beacuse they wanted to provide a personality for their creature that allowed it to take up a large space within the plot of their image. This could be done by giving the lion  a larger mouth or stronger limbs or even more human-like features, in an attempt to increased ability for viewers to relate to the animal.

Lions in Dutch Art