(active 1160s)

Lion Monument (L÷wendenkmal) to Henry the Lion

Cast bronze, height 178 cm
Burgplatz, Braunschweig

Henry the Lion (1129-1195), Duke of Saxony and Bavaria was, at the height of his achievements, the most powerful subject of the Holy Roman Emperor. His success was largely dependent on his being the close ally of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa (d. 1190). He took part in Frederick's military campaigns in Italy and when, in 1174, Frederick again requested his assistance, Henry asked in return for the city of Goslar in Lower Saxony, with its rich mineral resources. The request was declined and Henry refused his support. In 1180 Frederick took his revenge by confiscating Henry's land and forcing him into exile in England, where he lived from 1182 to 1185. He returned to Saxony in 1185, when most of his lands were returned to him, and he died there ten years later.

Henry used art to underline his political aspirations to rule territories that would rival those of the Holy Roman Emperor. In his capital city of Brunswick in northern Germany he built an impressive castle called the Dankwarderode, and next to it a church dedicated to St Blaise (later to be Brunswick cathedral). This housed the precious relics which he had brought back from Constantinople in 1173 on his return from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In front of these buildings Henry had erected in 1166 a monument larger than life-size of a lion - the heraldic symbol of his family. Cast in bronze, it is the earliest freestanding public monument to survive from the early Middle Ages.

The lion stands foursquare, with his mouth open in a roar. His eyes would originally have been inset with glass, thus accentuating his threatening appearance. For the period, this sculpture is a fairly convincing, naturalistic representation of a lion.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil KrÚn and Daniel Marx.