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Audio Stop 280

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As if sitting in an underground cave, we look onto a scene with a nearly nude man, muscular with pale, peachy skin sitting among seven male and two female lions in this horizontal painting. The man sits to our right of center with his legs crossed, elbows close to his body with hands clasped by his chest, head tipped back looking up towards a small opening above. He has long, wavy, chestnut brown hair and has dark eyes. A white loincloth covers his groin and he sits on a scarlet red swath of fabric draped up over a rock next to him. The nine lions stalk, sit, or lie down around the man. One male lion next to the man, to our left, opens his mouth with his head thrown back, curling tongue extended beyond long fangs. A human skull and other bones are strewn on the dirt ground close to us. The rocky cave curves up around the animals and man to a narrow, round opening showing blue sky above.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens

Daniel in the Lions' Den, c. 1614/1616

West Building, Main Floor - Gallery 45

Peter Paul Rubens, one of the greatest masters of the 17th century and a devout Catholic, masterfully combined realism and theatricality to draw a strong emotional reaction. Here, several lions stare at us directly, suggesting that we share their space and, like Daniel, experience the same menace. By portraying them close to life size with convincing realism, Rubens heightened this immediacy. The lions’ lifelike movement and their superbly rendered fur resulted from Rubens’s direct observation and sketches he made at the royal menagerie in Brussels. The dramatic lighting and the exaggerated emotionalism of Daniel’s prayerful pose add to the veracity.

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