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Peter Paul Rubens, A Lion Hunt

Key facts
Full title A Lion Hunt
Artist Peter Paul Rubens
Artist dates 1577 - 1640
Date made about 1614-15
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 73.6 × 105.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1871
Inventory number NG853.1
Location Room 18
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Lion Hunt
Peter Paul Rubens

A group of men out on a lion hunt are now being hunted themselves. In this brown monochrome sketch, Rubens – famously an accomplished painter of horses – has masterfully captured the movement of the rearing horses and thrusting spears, and the terrified faces of the men as they struggle to fend off the attacking lion.

The lion appears doubly enraged and desperate following the killing of his lioness, whose dead body lies speared on the right. The hunters, too, have lost one of their party: a dead man lies stretched out under the grey horse. Rubens has presented a moment of both balance and anticipation of change: who will win, man or beast? The surviving lion is outnumbered, and a faintly rendered figure hints at the eventual outcome. This man advances, his eyes trained on the lion’s head, his arm – and possibly a weapon – held aloft.

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