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The Sacred Grove of Bomarzo

Part 4: The Dragon Fighting a Pair of Lions

In Mediaeval iconography, the lion is the noblest of animals, and likened to Christ. The dragon is likened to Satan and represents evil. Darnall and Weil’s (1984) interpretation of the Bomarzo Dragon and Lions, based on this confrontation of virtue and vice, and suggestion of the sacrifice of divine love, has been challenged by another view that reverses the relation, seeing the Dragon as representing prudence, the lions, strength. J.B.Bury (1985) bases this interpretation on the precedent of a Leonardo drawing of the same subject, in which the Dragon and Lion are labelled with their respective virtues. That the Dragon is not overpowered by the lions, and holds a lion cub without harming it in his tail, symbolises, according to this interpretation, prudence overcoming force. Bury suggests that the Dragon is therefore an emblem for Giulia, to whom the garden is dedicated.

Given the deliberately grotesque features of the Dragon, the intended identification of the Dragon with Vicino’s Giulia is a little hard to swallow.

Darnall, M. J., and Mark S. Weil, Il Sacro di Bomarzo. Its 16th- Century Literary and Antiquarian Context, Journal Of Garden History, vol.4, no.1, 1984

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