This article presents the first study of the history and reception of the Medici Lions in connection with the cinema. The two Renaissance sculptures were carved from ancient Roman marble and inspired numerous variations in size and material. Since the 1840s, a marble pair and four additional lions, matching in appearance but with varying postures, have decorated the Vorontsov Palace at Alupka on the southern coast of the Crimea. Their history can be connected with the lion sculptures by Antonio Canova for the tomb of Pope Clement XIII in St. Peter’s. Three of the Alupka lions appeared at a climactic moment in Sergei Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin (1925).
The very arrangement of the lions at Alupka was intended to suggest a sequential movement. That movement became explicit in Eisenstein’s film: shots of the lions are edited together in such a way that one lion appears to come alive. This is the most famous instance of Eisenstein’s principle of montage. Since Eisenstein considered the ancient Greeks to be among the “ancestors” of the cinema, his lion is best understood from a classical perspective. Accordingly, this paper interprets the lion montage in Battleship Potemkin through classical rhetoric. Finally, the article surveys the wide variety of Medici-type lions on the screen.
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