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The Arsenale Lions

Maria I asked a question in the comments of my post about Madonna dell' Arsenale ~

"I was just reading Doctored Evidence and Brunetti was commenting on the lions at the Arsenale, wondering whether the men who carved them ever saw a real one. Are the lions ‘funny’ looking? "

The answer is yes!, There are four lions outside the entrance to the Arsenale, and one of them in particular is pretty goofy looking. The entrance is guarded by eight statues of pagan gods with the lions lounging beside them.

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This is the goofy one - such a worried expression on his face! I love him. He looks straight out of cartoons. Despite his Disney appearance, he's the oldest of the bunch, a Greek sculpture dating back to the 6th century BC. The Venetians stole him from island of Delos.

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This one sits to the left of the cartoon lion.

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And this one sits alone is to the left of the entrance. He came from the port of Piraeus in Athens where he might have been part of a fountain,and there's carved graffiti on him: runic inscriptions left by Scandinavian soldiers who were fighting in Greece in the 11th century. Supposedly translators have concluded that the graffiti is an archaic equivalent of "Kilroy Was Here."

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Another view of the graffiti lion:

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Here's the cartoon lion under scaffolding, taken in 2007 when there was restoration work going on at the entrance.

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I didn't have a photo of the fourth and smallest lion but I found one on Wikipedia Commons along with a 19th century Carlo Naya photograph of the Arsenale entrance. Some trivia about this entrance: the four bronze horses that are now inside the Basilica di San Marco were originally placed here at the Arsenale after the Venetians hauled them home from Constantinople but a few decades later, they decided to move them to the loggia of the Basilica.

smallestlion.jpg

ArsenaleNaya.jpg


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Comments (8)

Donna in SF:

Annie, thank you - that was just fascinating, and wonderful photographs!

Annie,
Thanks for putting the photos together. They are funny looking, I love them.

Wow, Annie, I had no idea these lions were so old and that they had come from Greece. I couldn’t grasp how big they were until I saw the wonderful vintage postcard. I see that there's one that is quite tall.

I think they all are funny looking! They do look kind of cartoonish, friendly and harmless. The goofy one with the worried face looks more like a lioness, with no mane and a skinny built.

I can't picture the four bronze horses amongst the lions and pagan gods. It must have felt very crowded in there!


nancyhol:

I LOVE the lions, especially the "goofy ones".

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, cool post! I also find it so interesting that these lion statues came from Greece and I like the lion with the goofy expression too. Also interesting to learn that the translation of the inscriptions on the one lion is an equivalent to the Kilroy was here story. I liked reading about the origins of it.

Great photos and very interesting post Annie!

Thanks everyone!

Maria, I'm pretty sure that the Venetians stole these lions a few centuries after they stole the horses, so I don't think they were ever there together. You are right, it would have been quite a menagerie!

Bert:

Are you familiar with 'Venice', by James Morris? He lists the most imperial, ugliest, silliest, eeriest, most unassuming, most froward [not a typo], most pathetic, most undernourished, most glamorous, most indecisive, most senile, most long-suffering, frankest, most confident, most athletic, most threatening, and most reproachful lions in Venice. He awards the Piraeus lion the title 'the most enigmatical'. There's your next project!

Hi Bery, it's called "The World of Venice" here in the US and it's one of my favorite books about Venice. There's a similar passage in his "Venetian Bestiary" with a few photos (but I wish there were illustrations of them all!).

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