Winged Lion

Winged Lion: How It Got from Assyria to Your Wall

Winged Lion is an artistic shot of a winged lion carved into the head rail of a Victorian server cabinet. The Victorian period between 1837-1901 was a period of change in the art of decorative furniture.

The manufacturing process of pieces changed from selective pieces hand-made for each client to a mass-produced factory one. For the first time, close copies of the same furniture the aristocrats had could be obtained by the common folk.

Thus enters our winged lion.   The winged lion is a mythological creature sometimes called the Lammasu. The Lammasu is a fantastic beast from the days of the ancient Assyrians Empire. When the 2nd Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzar II ruled the Middle East, they used it as a motif for the Sun God. Later, the conquered and displaced Jewish populace borrowed the winged lions as a prophetic animal in the prophesies of Daniel (Daniel 7:4) as a reference to Babylon itself.

Following the belief of the divine power behind the winged lion is it any wonder that the Christians followed suite by having it refer to St. Mark and even to Christ.

It is at this point that we go from the religious context Winged Lionto a more semi-divine arena. Since the city-state of Venice viewed St. Mark as it’s patron saint, it only made logical sense the motif of the winged lion would make it’s way into the heraldry and identity of the Venetian Empire itself.   After all what royal didn’t want their family to be seen as having God on their side. It is here that the brand of the image of the winged lion takes off.

This branding, much like an ancient form of a corporate logo, of the lion as a powerful, noble and ferocious beast was not lost on the rest of European royalty and plain ornamented lions show up all over Europe. The stylized lion especially became popular in the heraldry of England.

We soon arrive at the Victorian period named after Queen Victoria, one of the longest living monarchs of the British Empire. The Victorian period was a climate of scientific, artistic and cultural change in England.   With the love of the Gothic styles and dark ornate carvings making their appearance in building styles and especially in furniture. It’s only natural that the winged lion became popular again.

Only this time, the image refers the power of money and influence. Our winged lion motif loses its religious significance and becomes more used in its portrayal of economic and social power. The ability to make factory made furniture allowed the masses access to this powerful motif and it soon appeared on everything from tables to foyer pieces and servers.

Even now the meaning of this motif is in a constant state of change. Outside of the antique furniture business, the winged lion is synonymous with the artistic decorations of a gargoyle or griffin. It’s seen as a decoration more than a reference to power and elegance. Still, it makes for a great piece of art. Especially hanging on your wall.

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2 thoughts on “Winged Lion: How It Got from Assyria to Your Wall”

  1. curious how it is that the Venetians chose the winged lion to represent St. Mark in the 7th century, when orthodox view is (and was) its representation of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 7. How did they not see this as conflict? or did they somehow reconcile this?

    1. Thanks for the Reply! From what I’ve discovered, the Venetians borrowed the idea. Mark was given the icon as the winged lion because of the visions, the beings around the throne of God, in Revelations by John. Who in turn borrowed the icon from Ezekiel or Daniel. I’m not sure which one, but I lean towards Ezekiel because he came after Daniel but was still in Babylon. I nay case, Somewhere between Daniel and John the meaning changed. So basically, the Jewish rabbis borrowed the icon from the Babylonians, and later changed the meaning to suit their cultural or religious needs and then the same thing happened later with the Christians. 🙂

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