Revered in many ancient cultures, the lion is a powerful animal, heading the animal kingdom and even named ‘king of the jungle.’ The lion also stands as a religious symbol in multiple faiths, including Christianity and Hinduism. That’s why lions are such common motifs in tattooing, with people channeling various of their traits by permanently inking them on their bodies.
Below, we’ve put together a lion tattoo guide, explaining the meanings behind each of the different possible lion tattoo designs, as well as the best style, locations, and partner designs for lion tattoos. So read on to be inundated with an influx of lion tattoo ideas.
While the history of the lion symbol in tattooing, in particular, is not well-known, much more has been written about the history of the lion in art and culture in general. Depictions of lions date back at least 32,000 years. We’re referring to a lion-headed ivory carving found in southwestern Germany in the Swabian Alb in a Vogelherd cave. This carving is from an archeological culture of the Upper Palaeolithic called the Aurignacian culture.
Moving forward, there was also lion imagery found in the Chamber of Felines in a 15,000-year-old Palaeolithic cave painting found in the Lascaux caves. Specifically, they showed two lions mating. Similar lions have been found in other cave paintings, as well.
With the lion also popping up in the Ancient Egyptian culture, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, the Judeo Christian bible, ancient Hindu texts, Tibetan Buddhism, Asia, and Persia – with meanings and associations that we will discuss in the following section – it is clear that this is a powerful, enduring symbol that has been meaningful to human beings and our predecessors for time immemorial.
Generally speaking, there are a number of qualities associated with lion tattoos including courage, power, masculinity, royalty, peace, life, vitality, guardianship, protection, and ferocity. Beyond that, specific lion tattoos associated with certain cultures, types of lions, or facets of the lion image can also have specific meanings of their own.
Here are some of the most relevant ones.
A central figure in many Asian cultures, the Japanese lion represents valor, honor, and justice as a tattoo design. These values were held in high esteem by members of the Samurai culture.
Similarly, the lion is also a prominent figure in Chinese culture. Chinese lion tattoos also referred to as foo dogs have long manes and massive fangs, meant to appear intimidating and fearsome. These foo dogs are guardian lions, commonly depicted in statues around temples, restaurants, and even supermarkets to provide mythic protection. As a tattoo, Chinese lions represent protection, strength, luck, and masculinity.
The lion is a central symbol in Buddhism, symbolizing bodhisattvas – beings who have attained a high level of spiritual development. Lions protect the thrones of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, as well as monasteries and shrines.
There is also a specific type of Buddhist lion called the snow lion, depicted in white or blue with a flowing mane, wrathful eyes, and an open mouth. They symbolize fearlessness, wisdom, and divine pride, having achieved enough power to subdue all beings with love, compassion, and wisdom.
The lion also had a unique place in ancient Greek and Roman culture, although with a meaning that was rather different from the powerful, protective role they often took on in other cultures. Specifically, they tended to symbolize masculinity, fertility, and love. They were connected to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and Dionysus, the god of fertility.
There is also a specific lion who was prominent in Greco-Roman mythology. He was the Nemean lion, who Hercules had battled. He embodied strength and power.
Greco-Roman lion tattoos are often depicted with Hercules or in terracotta texture.
Known as the queen of the jungle, the lioness is renowned for her intense loyalty, pride, and resilient spirit. She is also a symbol of femininity and feminine power.
A common theme in the bible is the lion being associated with Jesus. For example, that is the connection behind the popular book series The Chronicles of Narnia, in which the lion is a clear representation of Jesus. Common Christian lion tattoo designs include a lion with a halo and a lion with a crown of thorns.
Like many paw print tattoo designs, the lion paw is a symbol of progress and accomplishment. It also represents protection, bravery, and guidance along the right path.
The lion is also one of the 12 signs of the zodiac, the Leo, which is the sign of people born from July 23rd through August 22nd. Leo is a fire sign with a strong connection to the sun, representing adventure, leadership, and justice.
A symbol of authority and nobility, the Rasta lion also represents tolerance, acceptance, and love of your fellow neighbor.
Known as born leaders, the roaring lion is believed to symbolize divine power, breathing life into those who are feeble.
The winged lion represents Saint Mark, the patron saint of lions (and many other things including lawyers, notaries, opticians, pharmacists, painters, secretaries, interpreters, and prisoners). The winged lion is a longstanding symbol of leadership.
Many people focus their lion tattoos on just the lion’s eyes, an intriguing and mysterious design that symbolizes being watched over and protected, as well as the “window to the soul” of this fierce creature.
We’d be remiss to write an article about lion tattoos with mentioning The Lion King, a 1994 animated Disney film that has been a big part of the childhoods of many millions of people around the world. Now, tattoos of Simba, Scar, and Mufasa are common as symbols of love for the film, love for Disney, and reminiscing about childhood.
Because of their massive popularity and versatility, you can find lion tattoos in pretty much every possible style of tattooing. Of course, some are more popular than others and certain tattoo styles will fit particularly well with the lion image. Here are some that we recommend.
With its ancient roots as a powerful symbol, the lion tattoo lends itself quite well to one of the oldest styles of tattooing: tribal tattoos. When these two are put together, it creates a strong, dominant image. In particular, you’ll see many tribal lion tattoos that are a lion’s head, a roaring lion, or a lion standing guard. They are nearly always in black ink with no shading or color.
Although it isn’t nearly as old as tribal tattooing, another style of tattooing that is seen as older and having more history is the American traditional, or old school tattoo. Because of this traditional vibe, this is another style that works well with the very ancient symbol that the lion is. For this reason, you’ll often see American traditional lion tattoos, whose strength and ferocity appeals to people who collect old school tattoos.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is the geometric lion tattoo, which has a much more modern and even futuristic look. These are more abstract than they are traditional, but they are no less impactful in their look, creating a strong impression. These types of tattoos tend to make very creative use of color.
A type of lion tattoo that is both common and guaranteed to have a timeless look is the realistic lion tattoo, which tries to depict a lion as, well, realistically as possible. Because real lions have such a fierce look to them, this is a style that greatly enhances the lion’s natural ferocity, strength, and power. That makes the realistic tattoo style a great choice for anybody seeking to have a very strong lion tattoo.
If you want your lion tattoo to be a little more unique and modern, the neo-traditional style, characterized by bright, intense colors, bold lines, and a lush look, is a great option. This is a very flexible tattooing style that allows for the wearer and the artist to incorporate their own flair, with lots of individuality and a final result that really pops.
Now that you have an idea of the many different meanings and styles that you might be able to choose from when it comes to lion tattoos, let’s turn to the issue of lion tattoo placement, or which parts of the body can make lion tattoos really shine.
One of the most popular choices for lion tattoo placement is the lion tattoo sleeve, which incorporates a lion tattoo as a prominent part of a large tattoo that covers the arm from shoulder to wrist. This is one of the most impactful types of tattoos as it covers such a large part of the body that is very visible in most things that a person might wear. So if you want your lion tattoo to really stand out and be seen frequently by everybody that you meet, then a lion sleeve tattoo might be the right choice for you.
Another great placement option for lion tattoos is the chest, which is a very large swath of skin allowing for a detailed, complex lion tattoo. However, in contrast to the sleeve, a lion tattoo on the chest won’t be as visible as often, so if you want to get a lion tattoo that you can show off when you want to but also keep hidden as needed, the chest is a placement that could make a lot of sense.
Similar to the chest placement, a lion tattoo on the back takes advantage of the back’s large size while also being more discrete than a lion tattoo on a part of the body that isn’t covered by clothing on a day-to-day basis.
The main difference between a lion tattoo on the chest and the back is that a chest tattoo is visible to the wearer and a back tattoo isn’t. So if your lion tattoo is something that you want to be able to see whenever you want, you might prefer to put it on your chest. But if you don’t necessarily have a desire to frequently see your lion tattoo, and even prefer for it to be more visible to other people than it is to you, then the back placement is probably right for you.
Of course, you don’t have to get a huge lion tattoo that takes up a major part of your body. Some lion tattoo designs and styles will work better with a smaller size, like the kind that would fit on your forearm. With this placement, the lion tattoo will still be highly visible, making it easy for you to see and to show off to the outside world, but it won’t be large and overwhelm your appearance if that’s a concern of yours.
It’s quite common for people to get lion tattoos that don’t just depict a lion on its own, but rather with another, accompanying design or two. Here are some additional designs that pair very well with lion tattoos, and what meanings these two symbols have when they are paired together.
As two of the most powerful creatures in the animal kingdom, the lion and dragon combined into a single tattoo design is a symbol of authority and strength. These two tattoos together also represent a balance between masculinity and femininity.
Representing opposite spirits, the lion and lamb tattoo design brings together two worlds. While the lion symbolizes power, strength, and masculinity, the lamb represents innocence, spirituality, and moral purity. This can also be considered a reference to the Judeo Christian bible, where the lion and the lamb symbolize the Messianic age, Christ’s sacrifice, and a peaceful future.
A prominent symbol of femininity, grace, and elegance, the lion flower tattoo appeals to those seeking balance and harmony. This tattoo design can also represent the middle way between your passionate side and your calm side.
Another common lion tattoo combination is the lion and cubs design, which is a tattoo that parents love to get. In the wild, lions protect their cubs fiercely, and somebody who gets a lion and cubs tattoo might be referencing their love for the children and their intention to always protect them and keep them safe. It’s a tattoo fitting a loyal, devoted parent.
A very powerful lion tattoo combination is the lion with a crown on its head which emphasizes the lion’s status as the king of the animal kingdom. It connects to the independence, strength, and control that are associated with the lion as royal leaders and protectors of their domain.
The lion’s notoriously fierce spirit and leader-like qualities make it one of the most highly respected animals. Whether you identify with the lion’s exceptional resilience or his intense passion, lion tattoo designs are visually striking and rich in symbolism.
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