The Lion of Gripsholm Castle

Jan 18, 2022 0 comments

There is much more to taxidermy then stuffing straw into the hide of a dead animal and sewing it up. It requires the taxidermist to possess detailed knowledge of the animals’ anatomy, failing which the results may end up looking extremely grotesque or funny, just like the taxidermied lion in Gripsholm Castle, in Sweden.

When alive, the lion of Gripsholm Castle must have been the pride of Gripsholm. Lions were exotic animals that were much sought-after in the royal houses of Europe. Princes from African states would often gift lions to European rulers as goodwill to seal a treaty or forge new relations. Leo the lion was one such gift. No one knows for sure, but he probably came to Sweden in 1731 as a gift to King Frederick I from the the Bey of Algiers. In 1729, the Swedish king had signed a treaty with the Algerian ruler to protect Swedish merchant ships from sea pirates off the coast of Algeria. The lion was a gift in return for the tax that Sweden paid to avoid the Barbary States’ piracy in the Mediterranean Sea.

Leo was housed on the royal hunting grounds where earlier lions had been housed. After the lion passed away, his pelt and bones were sent to a taxidermist to be mounted. Unfortunately, the taxidermist didn’t have the vaguest idea how the animal looked like. Lions are not native to Europe, and as noted, the only lions in the continent were those gifted to rulers (or captured) and they often resided in the royal menagerie. Despite his lack of knowledge, the taxidermist did as best as he could. Some have speculated that the taxidermist may have used heraldic lion images as a guide, like the carved lion at Gripsholm Castle. That would explain the curved tongue and the front paw posed midair.

“When seen from the side the lion actually has quite a ferocious appearance,” wrote David Mikkelson for Snopes. “Perhaps the taxidermist simply focused too much on side-view images when mounting the pelt, or the lion was (somehow) never intended to be seen from more than one angle.”

Whatever be the story, the Lion of Gripsholm Castle is now much more memorable than it would have been if the anonymous taxidermist had produced an outstanding example of his craft.



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