Lion from a fountain
Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum
Hegira 5th–6th century / AD 11th–12th century
Bronze casting, hollow, engraved.
Height 11.5 cm, length 14.5 cm
A sculpture such as this hollow lion – standing erect with its uplifted tasselled tail in the shape of a handle – is testament to the variety of Fatimid art. The open jaw of the lion once held a water pipe. The lion’s shape is based on a composition of very abstract forms. Thus its paws are flat, its ribs drawn out linearly, and the lines to describe both the extension of its ears and its bulging eyebrows are simple. The surface of its body along its back, chest and upper legs, is decorated with a spiral pattern that reinforces the sculpture’s stylised form. The engraved inscription found on both sides of the neck can be seen clearly and may date from the AH 7th / AD 13th century. It refers to bi-rasem al-amir Shams al-Din wali Misr, who was probably the governor of ‘Misr’ (Lower Egypt and Cairo).
A fully modelled sculpture of a living creature is of interest, as it does not conform to the specifications of Islamic dogma. However, such sculptures emerged from the Egyptian Court because, within its circles, the prohibition of the representation of living forms was not always enforced or adhered to, and also because the Fatimid Shi’ites adopted a liberal view. The Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo holds a sitting lion figure. The Berlin lion could have formed part of a sculptured fountain that featured a variety of figures. Thus, it would correspond to the lions of the well-known, bigger lion fountains of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Given its small size, the lion could have been part of a larger construction featuring a number of sculptures such as those represented in Iraqi manuscripts from the AH 7th / AD 13th century onwards. Bronze figures like this lion were widespread across the Mediterranean, and especially across Spain. One of these Spanish lions can be seen in the Louvre Museum in Paris. One can assume that most of these bronze lions did not survive the test of time and were melted down.
This lively little lion with an open mouth and upturned tail was used as a fountain spigot during the Fatimid period in Egypt. It is made of cast bronze that has been decorated with scrolls on the back and the legs. Fountains with animal decoration were widespread in Mediterranean countries.
Similar figures, cast in bronze, were made especially in Fatimid Egypt. Both the design and the decoration of the lion fountain demonstrate parallels to similar pieces that were created during the Fatimid period. Additionally, it features an inscription that names an apparent governor of Egypt.
From a private art gallery in 1911.
The inscription appears to name a governor of Egypt. Furthermore the stylistic markings testify to having originated from the Egyptian Fatimid period.
Enderlein, V., Islamische Kunst, Dresden, 1990, pp.121–4.
Ettinghausen, R. and Grabar, O., The Art and Architecture of Islam 650–1250, Harmondsworth, 1987, pp.197–200.
Museum für Islamische Kunst, Catalogue, Berlin 1979, no. 313.
Museum für Islamische Kunst, Catalogue, Stuttgart; Zürich, 1980, 52–3, no. 20.
Ward, R., Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, pp.60–9.
Annette Hagedorn "Lion from a fountain" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;de;Mus01;9;en
Prepared by: Annette Hagedorn
Translation by: Maria Vlotides, Brigitte Finkbeiner
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: GE 13