Lion Hunt by Rubens. Emotions, Dynamics and Luxury “in one Bottle”

Rubens. Lion Hunt
Peter Paul Rubens. Lion Hunt. 1621. Old Pinakothek, Munich.

How to combine chaos with harmony? How to make mortal danger beautiful? How to depict movement on a fixed canvas?

Peter Paul Rubens knew how to do it all masterly. And all these seemingly incompatible things we see in his painting “Lion Hunt”.

The Lion Hunt and Baroque

If you love baroque, then most likely you love Rubens. Including his “Lion Hunt.”

It has everything that is inherent in this style. Also performed with incredible skill.

Everything boils in it: horses, animals. Bulging eyes. Open mouths. Muscle tension. Swing with a dagger. Passion is incredible.

When I look at the picture, it starts to boil inside me. In the ears – the subtle noise of the struggle. The body begins to spring slightly. The seething energy of the picture is inevitably transferred to me.

These emotions are in every detail. Well, baroque “loves” redundancy. And the “Lion Hunt” is not an exception.

The artist needs to try very hard to fit four horses, two lions and seven hunters in one picture into one picture!

And all this is magnificent, pompous. In baroque, it’s nowhere without it. Even death must be beautiful.

And how well the “shot” was chosen. The stop button is pressed at the climax. Another split second, and the entered spears and knives pierce the flesh. And bodies of hunters will be strung with claws.

But baroque is a theater. Absolutely repulsive bloody scenes will not be shown to you. Only anticipation that the denouement will be cruel. One can be horrified, but without disgust.

The Lion Hunt and Realism

Particularly sensitive people can relax (including myself). In reality, nobody was hunting lions like that.

Horses will not fit a wild beast. Lions, too, are more likely to retreat than to attack larger animals (for them, the horse and rider appear to be a single creature).

This scene is a complete fabrication. But in a luxurious, exotic version. This is much more interesting and fanciful than the banal hunt for defenseless roe deer or hares.

Therefore, customers were appropriate. The highest aristocracy, which hung such huge canvases in the halls of their castles.

But this does not mean that baroque is the “zero” of realism. Just the same heroes are more or less realistic. Even wild animals whom Rubens most likely did not see alive.

Images of any animals are now available to us. But in the 17th century you can’t just see an animal from another continent. And artists made a lot of mistakes in their image.

Even in the 18th century, for example, a shark could be painted strangely.

John Singleton Copley. Watson and the Shark
John Singleton Copley. Watson and the Shark. 1778. National Gallery of Art, Washington.

So we can only admire Rubens’ talent for depicting so realistically what he did not see with his own eyes.

Something tells me that Rubens’s shark would have been more believable.

Orderly chaos in Lion Hunt

Despite the chaos of hooves, faces and legs, Rubens masterly built the composition.

With the spears and body of a man in white, the picture diagonally beats in two. All other details are as if strung on this diagonal axis, and not just scattered in space.

To understand how masterfully Rubens built the composition, let’s compare him with his contemporary Paul de Vos.

Paul de Vos. Harassing Bears
Paul de Vos. Bear Hunt. 1630. Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

There is no diagonal, but rather dogs scattered on the ground mixed with bears. And the bears are kind of weird. Their faces are more like wild boars.

The Lion Hunt as part of the picturesque “series”

The Lion Hunt is not Rubens’ only artwork on this subject.

The artist created a series of such works that are in demand among the nobility.

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But it is The Lion Hunt, which is stored in the Pinakothek of Munich, is considered the best.

Although in this series there is an even more exotic “Hippo Hunt”.

Peter Paul Rubens. Crocodile and Hippo Hunting. 1616. Old Pinakothek, Munich.
Peter Paul Rubens. Crocodile and Hippo Hunt. 1616. Old Pinakothek, Munich.

And the more prosaic “Wolf and Fox Hunt”.

Peter Paul Rubens. Wolf and Fox Hunting. .
Peter Paul Rubens. Wolf and Fox Hunt. 1621. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

“Hippo” is losing to “Lions” because of a simpler composition. It was created 5 years earlier. Apparently Rubens became a little more skilled and in “Lions” he already gave out everything he was capable of.

Peter Paul Rubens. Lion Hunt. 1621. Old Pinakothek, Munich.

But in The Wolf there is no such dynamics which Lions stand out so much.

All these canvases are huge. But for the castle it was a suitable size.

In general, Rubens almost always wrote such large-scale works. He considered it lower than his dignity to take a canvas of a smaller format.

He was a brave man. And he loved complex stories.

At the same time, he was self-confident: he sincerely believed that there had not yet been such a picturesque challenge that he could not handle.

Not surprisingly, he was successful in hunting scenes. The courage and confidence of hunters is consonant with the same qualities of the artist.


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Photos: Wikimedia Commons

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