Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Closely Looking at Rubens' "Daniel in the Lions' Den" + A Curly Endive, Roquefort Crumble & Crisp Warm Bacon Bits SALAD

"Daniel in the Lions' Den" by Peter Paul Rubens
(National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. - Flemish c.1613-1615, Oil on Canvas, 7 feet 4 1/4 inches by 10 feet 10 inches)
Peter Paul Rubens
Closely looking at the painting
"Daniel in the Lions' Den"
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

From time to time it is a pleasure to invite you to look at a painting with me. Like most museum visitors, I walk by the majority of the artworks giving the minimal 2.5 second glance at each piece before moving to the next, then a painting catches my interest. For this painting I look very deeply, investigating the surface, the under-painting and the preliminary drawing, the brush strokes or lack of brush strokes and the smaller paintings within the overall painting, checking-out every square inch of that painting. I can spend 10 or even 20 minutes taking in the details of a painting I find interesting. 

Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Self-portrait, 1623, National Gallery of Australia

Here we will take a close look at the large painting "Daniel in the Lions' Den" by the Flemish artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens. The artist's title for this work was "Daniel amidst many lions" 
(Painting size: 7' 4.25" by 10' 10". "Flemish" refers to Flanders which was a country made up of the NW part of what is now Belgium, plus some of SW Netherlands and some of Northern France. 

Rubens is most widely known for his portrayal of female beauty as fleshy and robust. The world has even adopted the term "Rubenesque" when referring to this type of female figure.

Daniel in the Lions' Den is a theological subject. According to the Old Testament, Daniel was purposely and falsely accused then thrown into a lions' den for not worshiping the Persian King, Darius. The unwilling king could not go against his own decree and said to Daniel: “May your God... rescue you!” The next morning and after the entire night of being locked-in with hungry lions, King Darius found Daniel safe and unharmed, without a scratch on him. Believing in Divine judgement, the king, removed Daniel from the den and the men who were his accusers where thrown in and quickly dispatched by the lions. Daniel is pictured in this painting as he prays, thanking God for his deliverance, after the stone over the entrance above him has been removed. 

If there is a visual prize in this painting, it is Peter Paul Rubens' fascination with the lions he often visited at the Royal Menagerie in Brussels - sketching and painting them from life and his personal observations and experience. Let's look closely at the personalities and postures of Rubens' lions and a detail of Daniel, the human focus of the painting, in a perilous circumstance.

This lion appears to be the dominant male of the pride, relaxed except for his face, which is aggressive and in-charge saying, "Don't Mess with Me!" 

The male, on the left, appears to be considering Daniel as breakfast, while the female, on the right, seems intent on making certain that does not happen.

The lioness shown from the back side, on the lower right of the painting, was not drawn from life, but Rubens used a small Paduan bronze statuette as the model. This lioness also seems to be trying to keep the more agitated male away from Daniel.

Many of the lions in the painting appear sleepy or asleep.

A lion sleeping in the background.

This skull deserves a closer look and may hold Rubens' hypothesis about how Daniel survived the night. There appears to be a glowing ember inside the eye socket of the skull, with heat and fumes emanating from the crack in the left temple. Question: "Were the lions sedated and put to sleep by a miraculous smoky haze?

The human bones in the lions' den
tell of lives lost.

This portait of a sleeping lion shows Rubens close observation of these animals from life.

Daniel is thanking God for keeping him safe through a frightful night surrounded by lions and by human remains from souls who were not so blessed. The lion in the foreground is the only animal in the painting 
with a look of immanent and dangerous intent on its face. The lion bearing his teeth, near Daniel's head, 
could be roaring but more likely it is yawning and stretching after waking up. 
Daniel's face is tilted back and up. This is a very difficult angle for an artist to paint a realistic face, but Rubens is masterful at the foreshortening. Daniel's whole body is tense down to his toes and his fingers are intertwined in a tight grip of praying hands. Painting intertwined fingers is another technically difficult feat for an artist. Look closely and see how confusing iintertwined fingers visually appear. 

Lions have long been considered the king of beasts, regal and powerful throughout European history. Rubens captures a sense of that power and romance in this face.

Rubens, who often worked in his studio with many assistants, did all of the preliminary sketches and all of the painting on the large canvas "Daniel in the Lion's Den" himself. The lions were all drawn from life, except the lioness on the lower right, which was borrowed from a bronze statuette. The pose for Daniel was also borrowed from an Italian painting.

The provenance (history of its ownership) of this painting is completely documented from Rubens' notes when he traded it for other art, through each owner and finally to the National Gallery.

Over the next couple of issues of ARTSnFOOD, I invite you along with me on my slow journey through a few paintings I saw on a recent trip to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The National Gallery is a fabulous U.S. museum of masterworks and new contemporary art on the National Mall in D.C.

(Regarding Art Museums Today) A funny joke in the industry is a husband complaining to his wife: "If you stop and look at the art we are NEVER going to get out of here!" • As they say, Art is not Football when it comes to the general public, but sports are entertainment in the moment, and art delights us and tells society's story long after it is created. • I also get surveys from museums asking "Have you visited an art museum / 1 time in the past 6 months / 1 time in the past year / 1 time in the past 5 years / or / more than 5 years since your last museum visit?" This makes me smile! It's hard for me to comprehend visits to art museums less often than at least once a month. 

(Sources: the above photographic images were taken with permission from the original painting, photos © Copyright 2013 Jack A. Atkinson; information came from notes taken at the museum and facts gleaned from the guide book "Master Paintings from the Collection of the National Gallery of Art" and from wikipedia.)

FOOD: Salad
Curly Endive, Roquefort Crumbles & Crisp Warm Bacon w/ Vinaigrette

4 oz block of bacon, cut into cubes (should make 1 cup) 

4 oz curly endive, washed, dried and torn into bite sized pieces (approx. 6 cups)

4 oz of Roquefort cheese crumbled (should make 1 cup)

Home-made vinaigrette dressing

Salt & Pepper to taste

Place the bacon pieces in a large skillet and cook, stirring frequently over medium-high heat, just until it begins to render fat and starts to brown (4 to 5 minutes) 

In a large salad bowl combine the curly endive and crumbled Roquefort cheese. 
As soon as the bacon is cooked, remove it with a slotted spoon and sprinkle over the salad. Toss.

Add a few tablespoons of vinaigrette and toss again to coat the leaves. Season each serving with a small amount of salt and freshly cracked pepper.

Add a glass of wine and call this a meal!

Vinaigrette Dressing


2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
A grind of sea salt
A grind of black pepper

Combine vinegars, lemon juice and salt in a bottle and shake until the salt has dissolved. Add oil and pepper then shake until blended into an emulsion. Serve while blended or re-shake. (Will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.)

Until Later,

ARTSnFOOD, is an online publication dedicated to "The Pursuit of Happiness, the Arts and Food." ™ All rights reserved. Concept, Original Art, Text & Photographs are © Copyright 2013 Jack A. Atkinson under all International intellectual property and copyright laws. All gallery, museum, fair or festival photographs were taken with permission. Images © individual artists, fabricators, respective owners or assignees

1 comment:

  1. Rubens, as mentioned in the blog, not only utilized emotional symbolism but also many others factors come into play. Most of Rubens compositions display an over all spiral to the whole of the work.
    Rubens uses three (CM) counter movement, figures are shown upper center and lower right. This gives the composition some drama. The lion’s tail of the right is overlapping leading the to the overall movement to complete the spiral. He Groups of lions breaks up the composition yet gives the work has a tempo and a rhythm. We could count out the beats. Daniel foot is connected to the lion’s mane, giving a feeling of's also a theory that artist used musical phrasing to give the composition, a certain of timing.
    Author Michael S. Meusch

    Drawing the Human form and the Mechanisms of Seeing.

    Walking among Giants
    A Painter in Paris