DescriptionRoman School (Italian, Late 17th-Early 18th Century)
Daniel in the Lion's Den with an angel bearing the prophet Habakkuk, circa 1690-1710
Oil on canvas
38 x 51-3/4 inches (96.5 x 131.4 cm)
PROPERTY OF A TEXAS MUSEUM
Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Charles J. Donahey, Tucson, Arizona, as of 1958;
Presented by the above to the present owner in 1972.
Daniel, one of the four "greater prophets" of the Old Testament, was an exile in Babylonia who attained great rank thanks to his ability to interpret dreams. He was thrown into a den of lions after disobeying one of the religious edicts of the Persian king, Darius. An angel of the Lord, though, was able to shut the lions' mouths, and Daniel was spared. The king then ordered that the prophet's accusers be placed in the den, where they instead were consumed (Daniel 6: 16-22). In that part of Apocrypha known as the History of the Destruction of Bel and the Dragon (23-42), an alternative narrative is described. There Daniel was punished for killing a sacred dragon by means of feeding it cakes made of pitch, fat and hair. His rescue was the result of the angel (said to be the archangel Michael) summoning another prophet, Habakkuk, who was told to bring Daniel food. To arrange this, the angel then transported Habakkuk by carrying him by his hair, which is the action depicted here at upper right.
This freely-painted composition is dominated by the figure of Daniel, who expresses his plight, including knowledge of his impending rescue, with a full panoply of dramatic gestures typical of Baroque art. That subject's half-length format, monumental drapery and lavish chiaroscuro recall Roman painting of the early seventeenth century, whereas the pale colors of Habakkuk's cape and the loose brushwork depicting the minor figures typify Roman works of the early eighteenth century. Rome itself is suggested by the Roman temple and obelisk in the distance.
Daniel's rescue party is composed in the manner of a pendentive fresco by Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), whose innovative style did much to form the early Baroque style in Rome. The influence of Lanfranco's pupil, Giacinto Brandi (1623-1691), is also apparent in the rich dark forms of the foreground and the picture's overall rhythms. Added to this mix is a certain affinity with the eclectic art of Daniel Seiter (1647-1705), most visible here in Daniel's facial type and in a general "fondness for the melodramatic," to quote John Varriano ("The First Roman Sojourn of Daniel Seiter, 1682-1688," Paragone, XXXIX, No. 12, 1988, p. 37). The latter penchant is most obvious in the caricature of a lion at lower right, which recalls Seiter's rendition in a drawing at Windsor Castle. As published by Philip Pouncey, that sheet is preparatory to Seiter's ceiling mural, Allegory of Dawn (Sala del Caffè, Palazzo Reale, Turin), which was completed soon after his transfer to Turin in the summer of 1688 (see P. Pouncey, "Two Studies by Daniel Seiter for Ceiling Paintings in Turin,' Master Drawings, V, Autumn 1967, p. 287, illustrated pl. 28).
Glue lined canvas (judging from thickness, possibly two linings). According to museum records, the painting was restored, relined, put on new stretcher bars, and reframed in 1958, prior to its acquisition in 1972. UV examination reveals that the painting was selectively cleaned at some juncture in the past. The figures and the large lion are not as masked by the thick varnish as the other parts of the painting. The painting appears to have had two periods of restoration. The first, under the varnish, is less heavy-handed and included small areas of inpaint on the shoulder of the main figure, on the tongue of the lion, and inpant addressing a scratch just above the cluster of lions (5 inch line in the brown area, which you can see in daylight owing to the fact that the color isn't a perfect match). The second restoration includes overpainting a deeper blue at the top of the sky above the clouds; inpaint and strengthening around and into the flying figures; and in the folds of the cloth draping the body of Daniel. The figure of Daniel is notably mostly devoid of restoration. The painting has a heavy varnish and surface grime. The paint film is stable.
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