Qantara Qantara

Lion with an articulated tail

  • Title/name : Lion with an articulated tail
  • Production place : Muslim Spain
  • Date / period :

    Twelfth century, or earlier

  • Materials and techniques : Cast bronze, line engraved
  • Dimensions : Height 30.08 cm; length 54 cm
  • Conservation town : Paris
  • Conservation place : Musée du Louvre, Department of Islamic Art
  • Inventory number : 7883

The powerfully stylized lion rests on its slightly tucked-up rear legs. The front legs, which are short and straight, extend along the same lines. The mouth is wide open like a waterspout. The large hole in the lion's underbelly suggests it may have been a decorative waterspout. The body's inclination towards the rear is offset by a tail with a floral end, which moves by means of a hinge. The body is covered with finely engraved decorations.  The mane is depicted by parallel curls. The legs are covered with circles and fleurons. A kufic inscription adorns its flanks. The almond-shaped eyes are in high relief, as is the arch of the eyebrows that traces a complete circle around the head.

Discovered in the nineteenth century at Monzon de Campos, in a château close to Palencia that was recaptured by the Christians in the eleventh century, the object raises many questions about its use (was it part of a fountain or a perfume burner?) and its date of execution (twelfth century or later?). The object has been compared with a small Fatimid statuette of a lion, produced in Egypt in the eleventh to twelfth centuries, whose mouth is also wide open[1]. However, the Monzon lion, which is of a completely different origin, shares many characteristics with the bronzes of the Caliphate of Córdoba (929–1031): it has the same almond-shaped eyes, is covered with the same decoration composed of foliage that terminates in floral motifs (this had already been used to decorate the walls of Umayyad palaces in Syria and Jordan[2]), and the body and ornamentation have the same static quality. Although the craftsmanship is not as fine as that found on the bronzes produced ‘in the royal workshops of Córdoba’, to quote the historian al-Maqqarī (1577–1632), it may well be older than originally thought. It may have been produced at the start of the twelfth century.

The Monzon lion's gaping mouth suggests it probably served as a waterspout. In the case of the bronze stag by Madinat al-Zahra (after 936), kept in the Córdoba Archaeological Museum, the water was transported through a pipe in the tabular stand, which then ran inside the legs and gushed from the mouth[3]. The lion that's kept in the Kassel Museum also has a pipe emerging from the mouth. These objects were linked with decorative palace architecture and were therefore inspired by no less prestigious eastern models. However, no large models of animals from the Abbasid East have survived, except a miniature horse with a bridle and saddle and several life-size birds[4]. Although the production of such works seems to have ended in Muslim Spain in the twelfth century, it continued in Seljuk Iran and there are close parallels with German goldwork and brassware. A small gold-plated bronze lion produced in Germany in the thirteenth century, which has a handle on the spine, has a short pipe emerging from its mouth[5]. Another, similarly inspired lion, made in the same place of fabrication, is kept in the Museum of Hamburg. These aquamaniles are often considered to have been directly influenced by zoomorphic vessels produced in Andalusian and Middle Eastern workshops.


[1] Museum of Islamic Art (Cairo), inventory No. 43505.

[2] e.g. in Amman, in a blind niche of the Dar al-Amara.

[3] The Archaeological Museum of Córdoba, inventory No. 500.

[4] They are kept in the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and Berlin's Museum für islamische Kunst.

[5] The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Bernus-Taylor, M., L’art en terres d’islam, Paris, 1988, p.160, fig. 168.

Gomez-Moreno, M-E., Ars Hispaniae III, Madrid, 1951, fig. 396, pp. 331, 336.

Migeon, G., ‘L’Exposition des arts musulmans au musée des Arts décoratifs’, in Les Arts,

 16 April 1903, fig. p. 13.

Kuhnel, E., Maurische Kunst, Berlin, 1924, fig. 121.

Scerrato, U., Mettali Islamici, Milan: Flle. Fabbri, 1967, p. 83.

Arabsques et Jardins de Paradis, (exhibition catalogue, Paris, the Louvre Museum), Paris: RMN, 1989.

Arts de l’Islam des place of fabricationes à 1700, dans les collections publiques françaises, (exhibition catalogue, Paris, Orangerie), Paris, 1971, No. 146, p. 102.

L’islam dans les collections nationales, (exhibition catalogue, Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais), Paris, 1977.

Transversal sheets
Almoravids (1056-1147)
Almoravids (1056-1147)
Animal patterns / bestiary
Animal patterns / bestiary
Shapes and patterns
Shapes and patterns
Court life and art of living
Court life and art of living