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Daniel in the Lions' Den

Peter Paul Rubensc. 1614/1616

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The Old Testament Book of Daniel recounts how the biblical hero was condemned to spend the night in the lions' den for worshipping God rather than the Persian king Darius. Depicted here is the following morning when, after the stone sealing the entrance was rolled away, Daniel gives to God for having survived the night safely. For theologians, the image of Daniel being freed from the cave symbolized the resurrection of Christ from the sepulcher.

Rubens masterfully combined realism and theatricality in order to produce a strong emotional impact. Several of the lions, for instance, stare directly at the viewer, creating a suggestion that the spectator shares the same space as the lions, and thus, like Daniel, experiences the same menace of the savage predators. This immediacy is heightened by the fact that the beasts are portrayed full size on the huge canvas and depicted with convincing realism. The lifelike movement of the lions and their superbly rendered fur results from Rubens' direct observation and sketches made in the royal menagerie in Brussels. Complementing this veracity is the dramatic lighting and the exaggerated emotionalism of Daniel's prayerful pose.

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Details

  • Title: Daniel in the Lions' Den
  • Date Created: c. 1614/1616
  • Physical Dimensions: w330.5 x h224.2 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • artist: Sir Peter Paul Rubens
  • Theme: religious, Old Testament
  • School: Flemish
  • Provenance: Sir Dudley Carleton, 1st viscount Dorchester [1573-1632], English Ambassador to The Hague, who acquired the painting in 1618 from the artist in an exchange for antique sculpture; presented to Charles I, King of England [1600-1649], between c. 1625 and 1632, where it hung in the Bear Gallery at Whitehall;[1] James Hamilton-Douglas, 1st duke of Hamilton [1606-1649], Hamilton Palace, Scotland, by 1643; by descent in his family to William Alexander Louis Stephen Hamilton-Douglas, 12th duke of Hamilton [1845-1895], Hamilton Palace; (first Hamilton Palace sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 19 June 1882, no. 80); purchased by Duncan for Christopher Beckett Denison; (his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 13 June 1885, no. 925); purchased by Jamieson for the 12th duke of Hamilton; by inheritance to his kinsman, Alfred Douglas Hamilton-Douglas, 13th duke of Hamilton [1862-1940], Hamilton Palace; (second Hamilton Palace sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 6-7 November 1919, 1st day, no. 57); purchased by Kearley for Weetman Dickinson Pearson, 1st viscount Cowdray [1856-1927], Cowdray Park, Midhurst, Sussex; by inheritance to his son, Weetman Harold Miller Pearson, 2nd viscount Cowdray [1882-1933], Cowdray Park; by inheritance to his son, Weetman John Churchill Pearson, 3rd viscount Cowdray [1910-1995], Cowdray Park; (sale, Bonham's, London, 1 August 1963, no. 25, listed as by Jordaens and De Vos by Bonham's cataloguer, Mr. Lawson); withdrawn and sold by private treaty before the auction to (Julius H. Weitzner [1896-1986], New York); (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); sold 13 December 1965 to NGA. [1] See Oliver Millar, The Tudor, Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, London, 1963: 16. According to the Van der Doort inventory of circa 1639 (Oliver Millar, ed., Abraham van der Doort's Catalogue of the Collections of Charles I [The Walpole Society 37], Glasgow, 1960:, 4), the picture was given "by the deceased Lord Dorchester" (Sir Dudley Carleton died on 5 February 1632). The painting is not mentioned in an inventory made of Prince Charles' paintings collection around 1623/1624 (see Claude Phillips, The Picture Gallery of Charles I, London, 1896: 24).

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