David Harris

Ivory Lion Upon a Felled Bull

A classic tableau in ancient art, the wild, untamable lion—symbol of awesome majesty and power—attacks the rump of a fallen bull. While the lion tears at the bull’s haunch, his legs rest on the bull’s back. The bull, clearly identified by its genitals, twists his head backwards in terror. The deep incisions on the bull’s flank and the grooves on his neck are well-known stylistic features of bulls in North Syrian ivories. This exquisitely carved 2-inch-high eighth-century B.C.E. openwork inlay, probably from Nimrud, brings to mind the words of the dying Jacob to his son: “Judah is a lion’s whelp; On prey, my son, have you grown” (Genesis 49:9).