Lion Attacking a Horse, end of 4th century B.C.
Sovraintendenza ai Beni Culturali di Roma Capitale - Musei Capitolini.
August 12, 2012, source: Getty Museum
Depicting the figure of a fallen horse succumbing to the claws and fangs of a ferocious lion, the monumental group dates to the early Hellenistic period (the late 4th century B.C.), when Greek sculptors began to produce naturalistic portrayals of intense emotion and physical exertion. Although the original location of the sculpture is unknown, its massive scale and dramatic carving suggest that it embellished a monument in northern Greece or Asia Minor (present-day Turkey).
Created in the era of Alexander the Great’s conquest of Asia, the sculpture may have formed part of a larger composition with a melee of wild beasts and mounted hunters, which commemorated the young king’s famous lion-hunting exploits at Sidon (present-day Lebanon) in 332 B.C. and a royal game preserve in Basista (present-day Uzbekistan) in 328–327 B.C.
The sculpture was eventually brought to Rome, most likely as war booty seized by a victorious general for display in the imperial capital. It was ultimately discovered in the streambed near the Circus Maximus, a stadium used for chariot races, gladiatorial games, and animal combats. The work was first mentioned in an archival document in 1300.
“We are thrilled to have on view at the Getty Villa the celebrated Lion Attacking a Horse, which is one of the most storied sculptures to have survived from antiquity,” says Claire Lyons, Acting Senior Curator of Antiquities. “As the earliest work of ancient art recorded on the Capitoline Hill, it marks the beginning of the world’s oldest public art museum.”