As many of you know, lately, I have been intrigued by the idea of reinterpreting mythic animals of yore. It started with a rhino based on a Durer etching, then a giraffe, then some small Alternate Evolutions.
The Nemean Lion - My latest creations is based on the ferocious beast of Greek mythology
So who is the Nemean Lion? Well as the story goes his father was Typhon (a Titan god/monster sent to mess with the Olympians. Typhon is often described as having serpent legs and wings...sometimes as having many heads...either way he's bad news) and his mother Echidna (who is also rather reptilian...sort of a mermaid but with a snake tail instead). The lion's siblings are a list of baddies: the Hydra, Cerberus, the Sphinx, and the Chimera among others. He had some pretty famous aunts too...Auntie Medusa as well as the Graeae sisters (you probably remember them from Class of the Titans...the three hags who shared and eye). Needless to say the Nemean Lion wasn't raised in a well adjusted home.
Nemean Lion Family Tree
Now the lion, which has no name, was sent by the goddess Hera to the area of Nemea to cause havoc to the region. This was done to piss Zeus off...she was angry at him for some reason, most likely philandering, as he was wont to do. The lion was sent interfere with the locals worshiping a the temple of Zeus, which just so happened to be in Nemea. If you want to make offerings to Zeus...you get eaten. Them's the rules.
The Nemean Lion was no ordinary lion. He was said to be twice the size of a normal lion, his fur was impenetrable to steel and his claws could pierce armor. It is said that the lion devour the local livestock, as well as lure soldiers to there doom by abducting family members.
The 1st Labor of Heracles
Because of all this tomfoolery, Heracles (also know as Hercules by the Romans) was called in to take control of this situation. Heracles had labors to complete to atone for sins (killing his family...though technically Hera is to blame because she made him temporarily insane). The first task was to defeat the Nemean Lion (some of the other tasks were to kill the Hydra, and capture the three headed dog/guardian of the Underworld Cerberus).
The basic story is this...Heracles comes to the bone filled cave and the Lion appears. He shoots a few arrows, which have no effect and just bounce off the animal's hide. The Nemean lion lunges, and Heracles pulls the beast close and strangles him. (There are a few versions of the lion's defeat). Using the claws of the beast, Heracles removes the hide (knives wouldn't cut it) and it becomes his protective garment. I was recently in Rome and Florence I was amazed how many sculptures I saw that made reference to the the first labor of Hercules...usually a statue of Herc wearing his lion cloak.
More Inspiration: Pitti Palace
I admittedly have a bit of empathy for the large feline. Because of this, I wanted him to be fierce yet noble. Much of this inspiration came from the Pitti palace in Florence. The building was lined with massive carvings of lion heads. Gorgeous and powerful.
This piece I created all started with an enormous door knocker my wife, Andrea found at a thrift store. It was a very simplistic Art Deco-ish design. So I need to use clay to create a bit more detail to the face. From there I wanted to give the sense of armor...not fur, but armor. Decorative designs were added on and around the face to achieve this. Also, I wanted the mane to be heavy duty looking too. I wanted them to look like scales...so I used wooden biscuit joiners that you use in woodworking to create this. Designs would be added later with the use of clay.
The Finished Piece
The piece has some subtle references to the beasts family tree. Snakey forms surrounding him...to honor his snakey parents. A medusa emblem for his sisters.
The sphinx is another one of his sisters. Up on top is the protective (or at least commanding) hand of Hera who employed the beast to do her bidding in Nemea.
The lion started on being rather blue in color and big tour de force came when I started pushing the blue/green back with the warm reddish gold colors. Prior to that I found the piece really boring in its verdigris-ness. The red really jazzed things up. The power of complementary colors.
So I hope you've enjoyed your journey to Nemea. If you do travel that way, I'd recommend either staying away from bone filled caves...which is good advice no matter where you go.