Lion figurehead from an unknown small British warship (fourth- or fifth-rate)

A full-length polychrome stylised lion figurehead from an unknown small British warship (a fourth- or fifth-rate) from the late 17th-century to the early 18th century. Representing royalty, the lion connects the monarch to the Royal Navy and the projection of England, later Britain, as an ambitious maritime nation. This lion, the oldest figurehead in the Museum’s collection, is resting his front paws on the sides of an escutcheon within which is the cross of St George. In 1846, this early style of lion was revived as the approved figurehead design for the 80-gun HMS Lion, which was launched at Pembroke Dockyard the following year.

This is a rare survival of a standard Royal Naval lion figurehead. Its present paint scheme is as restored by the late Kim Allen of Westerham, Kent, in the 1970s but probably much more subtly than most were originally painted: many were largely plain gold, or yellow simulating it. Such lion figures were the standard figureheads of all Royal Naval ships which bore them and were not of a size to warrant an individual design, as was usually the case with first-, second- and (more variably) third-rates. They were also standard in other European navies allowing for local differences of design. This is one of only two surviving British examples: the other, which is larger and probably a little later, supports the gable of the Red Lion Inn at Martlesham in Suffolk. There is an older, probably 17th-century example set at ground level on the corner of house at Alfriston in Sussex, but in poor condition and of uncertain but probably north European origin. FHD0089 is another example in the Museum collection, also thought to be of 18th-century north European origin.

Object Details

ID: FHD0088
Collection: Figureheads
Type: Figurehead
Display location: Display - Nelson, Navy, Nation Gallery
Date made: circa 1720
Exhibition: Nelson, Navy, Nation
People: Saint George
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Overall: 92 in x 20 in x 23 in x 180 kg

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