Daniel in the Lion’s Den

July 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

This oil painting is currently for sale.

For inquiries about the purchase of this artwork, please contact me at: mikeschultzpaintings@gmail.com.

Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Blue), Oil on Wood Panel, 3 x 4’ (92 x 122 cm) 2009-2010

This artwork was painted in oil between 2009-2010 in Portland, OR by Mike Schultz.

It was later framed by my good friend, artist and woodworker, Jack Baumgartner.

As this was a special painting for me to make, I would like to present a written explanation of my thoughts and some of the processes involved in creating this work.

Reflections on the painting of Daniel:

Originally, I was asked to make a single painting of the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. After researching different versions of the narrative, I decided that instead of making a solitary artwork, I would make two paintings of the same subject, at the same time.

Working on the two versions simultaneously was fascinating.  With two paintings, I was able to try out different color combinations and painting techniques on the separate works.  As they progressed, they naturally developed side by side into sister paintings.  As finished pieces with the same composition, they are very similar, but each has a unique color palette and tone.

The two Daniel paintings prior to varnishing and the application of finish to the frames.

Pictured above: The painting on the left (The Blue Version) is currently for sale.  Its sister painting on the right (The Violet Version) has already been sold.

Religious texts:

The parables of Daniel are one of those curious examples of a narrative that appears in the texts of several religions, similar to the story of a great flood and an ark, or the visionary, Joseph.

The story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den is told in the Hebrew Torah and the Christian Bible, and in the Islamic tradition, Daniel is considered to be an Islamic prophet, both as a sage of ancient times, and as a visionary living in captivity in Babylon.

Interpreting the narrative :

For me, this story represents a duality between the external and internal world.  It is the external predicament of an inevitable death, and Daniel’s subsequent journey inward into the self, where he travels beyond his fear, to finally arrive at a place of safety and peace.

This moved me to divide the composition into two separate, but interlocking, parts.  They are the upper and the lower half of the canvas.

In the upper half of the composition we can see through an arched window to Babylon.

The upper half of the composition, the outer world, shows Babylon through an arched window.  The lower half, the inner world, is where Daniel meditates quietly in his cell, safely encircled by lions that purr like docile kittens.  He is at peace despite the ominous presence of a human bone on the tiled floor.

Throughout the history of painting, owls and monkeys have symbolized many different things. Borrowing symbolism from different traditions, I chose the monkey to represent a protective and curious spirit.  The character echoes Pieter Bruegel’s painting of two monkeys chained to the ledge of an arched window.  The owl represents a wise keeper of secrets or the companion of a visionary.

In the lower half, Daniel meditates in his cell, safely encircled by lions that purr like docile kittens.

Babylon and the Tower of Babel:

According to the narrative, Daniel is held captive in Babylon.  I illustrated ancient Babylon in four ways.

Photographs of the ruins at ancient Babylon show a crumbling plateau of mud bricks.  Therefore, on the horizon I painted a walled city on a plateau, and within the city is the fabled Tower of Babel, spiraling upwards.

In the den, there is a tiled lion on the wall, bathed in moonlight.  This image replicates photographs of actual mosaic lions from the walls and gates of Babylon.  These artifacts are now dispersed in museums around the world.

Unlike many depictions of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, I chose the location of the den to be a palace tower, with flowering pillars and tiled lions on the walls.

I surmise that a society sophisticated enough to build an ancient megalithic “skyscraper”, such as the Tower of Babel, and tile their building walls with ornate ceramic brick mosaics, would also have a palace den that was not merely an earthen cave, but just that: a “den” worthy of a palace.

The flowering pillars are a reference to The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which, along with the Great Pyramid of Giza, were once known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Depicted on the horizon is a plateau with the walled city of Babylon, and the fabled Tower of Babel.

Color palette:

The cool color palette was chosen to represent the night.  I wanted the blues, violets, grays and blacks to give the feeling of the soft glow of moonlight reflecting in the den.

Video of the painting process:

While working on the underpainting for these two works, I made a video of my process. An underpainting is an initial, thin layer of paint applied to a prepared surface, which serves as a base for subsequent layers of paint.  To view the video, go here.

Video still showing mixing colors on the palette.

Video still depicting working on the underpainting.

Video still of the two paintings in my studio, during the process of applying the underpainting.

For inquiries into the purchase of this artwork, please contact me at: mikeschultzpaintings@gmail.com.

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