The Lion in Love, 1879
A lion fell in love with a shepherdess and asked for her hand in marriage. The girl’s father, fearful of the lion’s wrath if he refused the suitor, appeared to consent, but asked that the lion’s paws be clipped and his fangs filed. Like a ‘fortress stripped of its defenses,’ blinded by love, the lion agreed. When the dogs were let loose, he was unable to defend himself.
Moreau transformed the shepherdess of La Fontaine’s fable into an archetypal female nude of noble bearing and grand Renaissance ancestry, recalling prototypes by Lucas Cranach and Raphael in the Louvre Museum. Moreau presents her as a powerful figure – goddess, princess and temptress – whose touch subjugates the lion. The luminosity of her body, with clear outlines but little shading, contrasts with the textures of the lion’s fur and face, which are integrated into the complex surface treatment of the landscape and textiles. The scissors, right at the front of the picture plain, for the clipping of the lion’s claws, recall those that Delilah used to cut Samson’s hair in The Bible, another famous story of the emasculation of a male in love.