This schematized image of a rampant lion probably came from a large mosaic floor in an Early Christian church in Homs, Syria, dated by an inscription to a.d. 450–62. The other subjects in the floor included a leopard, a gazelle, and a griffin. Animals appear frequently in pavement art, where the use of sacred images and symbols had been prohibited in areas where worshipers would walk. Narrative scenes from the Bible and various images of Christ were permitted on walls, while floor decorations tended to remain within the traditional secular repertory inherited from Roman times. Animal, marine, and pastoral subjects appeared in the nave of the church, which was associated with the created world. Designs of a more abstract, metaphysical nature decorated the sanctuary, denoting the world of the spirit.
The lion on this fragment may represent part of a hunt scene. The subject of the hunt originated in Near Eastern royal hunt scenes, and was very popular in Roman pagan imagery. Early Christians associated the symbol of the hunt with the concept of duality—the triumph of good over evil—and dangerous animals could be identified with irrational elements of the human soul.
(Peter Marks, New York);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1972.