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Thérouanne ?, France (formerly Flanders) (Place created)
Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
Leaf: 19.1 × 14.3 cm (7 1/2 × 5 5/8 in.)
On top of a mountain, two ferocious-looking lions stand over a small lifeless cub lying on its back. This image represents two of the lion's principal characteristics. First, as bestiary texts explain, the lion "loves to saunter on the tops of mountains." Second, the miniature depicts the fanciful story of the lion cub's birth. According to legend, when a lioness gives birth to her cubs, they are dead. It is only when their father, coming on the third day, breathes in their faces that they come to life. Here the lion on the left stands over the cub, opening his mouth to revive him. Bestiaries were designed as teaching texts in which the animals served as vehicles for explaining Christian doctrine. The lion, the king of beasts, was understood in the Middle Ages as a symbol of Christ. So the story of the cub's three days of lifelessness was interpreted as a reflection of the three days between Jesus' Crucifixion and his Resurrection. Few Europeans ever saw lions, native to Africa and Asia. Nevertheless, the artist rendered the beasts with remarkable verisimilitude.