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The Book of Daniel

Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel and Judah. The king ordered Asphenaz, his chief eunuch, to select a number of Jewish boys of royal or noble descent to be educated at the Chaldaean court of Babylon. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

Daniel asked not to be polluted by the food and wine from the Babylonian table but to live entirely on vegetables and water. When Daniel and his friends, after a trial period of ten days, looked even better than the other boys, Asphenaz allowed them to continue this regime. The boys were presented to the king after their education at the palace of Babylon and soon became members of the king’s court, for when the king questioned them he found their advice better than of his own magicians and soothsayers.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. The king called for his magicians and asked what he had dreamt and also ho the dream could be interpreted. None of the magicians knew what the dream had been, so the king ordered them to be put to death. Search was also made for Daniel and his companions to be killed. Daniel asked Arioch, the king’s executioner, whey they were being executed. Arioch told him of the king’s dream and how none of the magicians had guessed what the king had dreamt. Daniel then prayed to Yahweh and told Arioch that he should stop the executions because he, Daniel, knew not only the dream but also its meaning. Daniel was brought to Nebuchadnezzar and he explained the dream. The king had seen a great, bright statue of a man. The head was of gold, the arms and chest of silver, the belly and thighs of bronze, the legs of iron and the feet were part iron and part clay. A stone broke away and struck the feet of the statue, shattering them. Then the whole statue broke into fine pieces, so fine that the wind blew them off like dust. The stone however grew into a mountain that grew and grew until it had filled the whole world. That had been the dream and now Daniel explained its meaning. Nebuchadnezzar was the golden head. The other pieces of the statue’s body were the succeeding kingdoms, until the feet represented a kingdom that was split in two like the feet were part iron and part clay. In the time of this kingdom, Yahweh would set up a kingdom that would not be absorbed by other races and that would absorb all the previous kingdoms and last forever. Daniel asserted that the dream was true and his interpretation exact. Nebuchadnezzar believed Daniel, and made him governor of the province of Babylon and head of the wise men of the country. Daniel however proposed to entrust the province of Babylon to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. He himself stayed at the service of the king, at the court of Babylon.

King Nebuchadnezzar built a large golden statue and set that up in the Plains of Dura in Babylon. The king called all his courtiers together and ordered them to prostrate themselves and worship the golden statue at the sound of any musical instrument. All man did so but Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. The king was informed and shaking with fury he ordered the young men to be brought to him. Th boys however told the king that even if they were thrown in punishment in a fiery furnace, they would not care of they died and they told their God would save them. The king ordered the young men to be thrown in a furnace. The furnace was so hot that the men that carried Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego were burnt to death. The three Jews were thrown in the furnace but they prayed. The Angelo f God came down beside the men in the furnace, drove away the flames and brought coolness in the centre so that the fire did not touch Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. The three men sang a poem of praise to Yahweh. Nebuchadnezzar was not a little amazed and he acknowledged the miracle. He told the young men to come out of the furnace and showered them with favours. He also ordained anybody to be killed who spoke disrespectfully of the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego.

Nebuchadnezzar had another dream. He saw a very tall tree in the middle of the world. It bore fruit, was beautiful, and offered shade to the animals. An Angel came down and shouted to cut the tree down, throw away the fruit and let the animals flee from the shelter of the tree. The stump with its roots in the ground was bound in irons and that should be thus preserved. The stump should receive the dew, cease to have a human heart but given the heart of a beast. And seven times should pass over it. When Nebuchadnezzar asked Daniel to translate the dream, Daniel was confused at first. Then he explained the dream after some hesitation. Daniel told that the tall tree was Nebuchadnezzar himself. The verdict of God was that the king would be driven from the humans and would become an animal until he would understood that God rules over the humans and until the king recognised that only God could confer sovereignty on whom He pleased. Leaving the stump in chains meant that Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be kept for him until he came to the understanding of God’s superiority. After twelve months, the king sat on the roof of his palace and he oversaw his empire with pleasure, saying that all these splendours had been built by his force alone, and to his glory. Then a voice came down, saying that the empire was immediately taken away from him; Nebuchadnezzar would be driven from humanity and become a beast until he understood that all might was with the Most High alone. Nebuchadnezzar then grew mad and like an animal, he grazed in the meadows. He stayed that way until his reason returned to him and he started praising the King of Heaven.

Other paintings:

Belshazzar’s Banquet

King Belshazzar of Babylon was the successor to his father, Nebuchadnezzar. Once, he gave a great banquet for a thousand of his noblemen. There was plenty of good wine to drink, but the king found his beakers very poor. So Belshazzar ordered the gold and silver vessels taken from the sanctuary of the Temple of Jerusalem to be brought to the banquet so that all could drink out of richer vessels. While they were drinking, suddenly the fingers of a human hand started to write on the plaster of the palace walls. The king turned very pale then and he was much afraid at this extraordinary event. He called for all his soothsayers to read what was written, and he promised that the one that could read the words would receive a purple dress, a golden chain around his neck, and the man would be one of the three governors of the kingdom. None of the king’s sages however could read the writing and Belshazzar turned ever paler, ever more alarmed and ever more angry. The queen then remembered to him how his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had in difficult moments always asked the advice of Daniel the Hebrew. Daniel was called in and he told that he could easily read the message. He started by saying that he refused the king’s gifts. He then reminded Belshazzar of his father, who had been mighty but had turned into an animal that grazed like an ox until he had recognised who really was the Almighty. Daniel told that Belshazzar had defied the same God by drinking out of the vessels of His sanctuary. Belshazzar had not humbled himself and praised idols instead. The words that the hand wrote were, ‘mene, mene, tegel, parsin’. ‘Mene’ meant that god had taken the measure of Belshazzar. ‘Tegel’ meant that the king had been weighed and found wanting. ‘Parsin’ meant that the kingdom of Babylon would be given over to the Medes and the Persians. Daniel received what the king had promised: he was dressed in purple, received a golden chain around his neck and was chosen as one the three men that governed the kingdom. But that same night the Chaldaean King was murdered and Darius the Mede received his kingdom.

Belshazzar’s Banquet

Andrea Celesti (ca. 1637-1711). The Hermitage State Museum – Saint Petersburg. Ca. 1705.

Andrea Celesti was a painter of the Veneto region. Born in Venice, he painted for rich commissioners and decorated churches and palaces. Celesti painted Biblical scenes, but also of Roman and Oriental antiquity. He was a painter of the beginning of the Italian Rococo period, which was founded in Venice. His ‘Banquet of Belshazzar’ is one of his best pictures. It was originally one of a set of four that arrives in Saint Petersburg, the others being an ‘Adoration of the Golden Calf’, the ‘Family of Darius before Alexander’ and ‘Solomon between his wives sacrifying to Idols’, all themes well known by painters. Celesti painted two other pictures on the theme of Belshazzar. Andrea Celesti was not a very great painter but he knew how to charm his commissioners with fashionable pictures of show of wealth, painted in delicate colours, and with many details and figures, which would have been fine decorations in any palace. The ‘Banquet of Belshazzar’ reminds of the glorious banquet painted by Paolo Veronese, of Veronese’s ‘Marriage at Cana (the Louvre, Paris) or his ‘Supper at the House of Simon’ (Sabauda Gallery, Turin). And we sense the airy and pictorial sweet refinement of the Tiepolos in his paintings.

Andrea Celesti showed a table in the form of a half circle. The table is splendidly dressed with the golden and silver vases and dishes of the Temple treasure of Jerusalem. The guests sit around this table, engaged in gossip and intrigues. There are men and ladies in sumptuous, gaudy oriental and Venetian dresses. The oriental touches are on the men, who mostly wear turbans ands some have the long, white beards to which we are accustomed to see in older dignitaries of the sultans. A few of the guests point to a hand that writes on the frieze of a Roman architecture the famous words, ‘Mane Tecel Phares’. Belshazzar sits at the head of the table. He is dressed in a golden-coloured robe over a white shirt and he wears a splendid red cloak? He also suddenly points to the hand a the ceiling.

Like in paintings of banquets of Paolo Veronese, Andrea Celesti divided his picture in bands. In the lower part he painted the banquet scene. He reserved the upper part for a grand view of Roman temples and high, sharp towers. He painted the foreground rather dark, especially in its centre part and gradually brightened his tones towards the background, where the far view of the lane ends in almost pure white. He thus obtained a nice and strong effect of aerial perspective, a fine sense of space and airiness. Celesti enhanced the illusion of deep space in the background by showing strong perspective of lines in the architecture above. He placed the Roman columns and imposing upper structures of the halls parallel to the viewer, but showed the very reclining lines of the friezes that come together at a vanishing point in the open part almost in the centre of the picture. The vanishing point lies somewhat to the left of the centre but way above the table and Celesti thus could show all the guests at the table, also those on the back side, as well as present most conspicuously the host Belshazzar, who sits at the right, in full view of the viewer. The effect of perspective is well realised and Celesti also opened the buildings, letting the viewer look straight into the far in a fine illusion of wide and deep space. Opening up the view in the middle of a painting to a deep landscape or cityscape was a well known element of style, particularly much applied in Venetian vedutoes. Celesti applied it well. His structures remind of Pietro Perugino’s views of opened temples and this effect makes of the Roman buildings or walls a weightless structure as of a garden pleasure palace. Celesti placed a white angel, barely recognisable, behind the table, announcing the words of Yahweh. But otherwise Celesti’s effect of space is very far and well succeeded.

Andrea Celesti used a wealth of colours, which mostly remain gentle and subdued except in the foreground. He showed Belshazzar in splendid, bright and pure yellow-orange-golden hues and he contrasted these nicely with the blue dress of a boy sitting beneath the Babylonian King. Here also we see the traditional dog, a symbol of loyalty, which can often be found in Venetian pictures of suppers. Celesti used gentle, almost chalky hues at the table, nut he delineated his figures, faces ,robes, with fine darker strokes so that it is as if the original drawing in black colours come through. This is not altogether a less-desired effect; it brings a touch of originality in the work, as if the painter had drawn in strong composition and then painted in water colours. In the foreground centre Celesti painted two figures in darker colours: deep blue and purple-red. One of these, probably the standing figure in the ample blue cloak, must be the Prophet Daniel. Daniel seems already to be explaining the words ‘Mane, Tecel, Phares’ to a courtier and he also points down, indicating the downfall of Belshazzar.

Andrea Celesti made a fine, delicate painting that could easily be used as a fine decoration for a palace in which people lived in wealth and leisure. The whole painting inspires sophistication, ease of life, exotism, grandeur and courteousness. Celesti sought harmony of colours, symmetry in the architecture, openness and airiness of the view. The hand of Yahweh writes words high up on a frieze of a Roman or Greek temple. The hand is barely visible and nobody really cares about the miracle and its terrible message; it looks as if the hand is just one more marvellous effect of the feast. There is nothing but playfulness in the picture, and this might reflect the life in Venice in the very beginning of the eighteenth century, when fortunes had been made in previous times and now for a few generations more Venetians could profit from the past efforts. Of course, the hand is there and it heralds the passing of the wonderful times of leisure, but for the moment no one really cares. The sense of tragedy and fear is missing in the painting, but Andrea Celesti was clearly not out to represent a tragedy, but a feast. However lively his scene, showing epic and profound emotions was not his aim. He merely suggested in an almost hidden way that the leisure would end. Such paintings are of course pure delight, decoration first and foremost, ornamental, harmonious, bright, splendid and light-headed. Like Venice had become. Could Andrea Celesti paint otherwise than his extravaganza? He could. He made quite more dramatic, Baroque paintings in which his figures were positioned more closely to the viewer and where he also showed half naked, full muscled men in action. One such a painting is also in Saint Petersburg, the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ in the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts. With this kind of paintings, late in his life, Andrea Celesti opened the way for Giambattista Tiepolo’s Rococo pictures.

Belshazzar sees the Writing on the Wall

Rembrandt Harmensz. Van Rijn (1606-1669). The National Gallery. London. 1635.

Rembrandt painted his scene of Belshazzar’s banquet in 1635 to 1636. He had moved to Amsterdam since a few years only and married two years before Saskia van Uylenburgh. He had become a member of the guild of Saint Luke, had the right to hold the title of Master and he had a workshop of painting with many pupils, some of whom are now also well known painters such as Govert Flinck (1615-1660) and Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680). His first child had died soon after its baptism, but altogether these were not unhappy years for the couple and more children could be expected. Rembrandt still painted in fine, light colours although he had already abandoned details in his backgrounds and discovered the power of bright, pure hues placed against darker surfaces.

Rembrandt was a painter of the human figure. In his ‘Belshazzar sees the Writing on the Wall’, there are only figures and the few objects that are shown are absolutely needed fort he understanding of the scene and the psychology of the actors. There is the writing on the wall, but there is no wall. There is nothing behind Rembrandt’s personages: no architecture, no walls, no decoration, no window, nothing. There is a table in the picture and on that table is food on platters to indicate that the scene is during a banquet. There is a splendid golden dish on the table and Belshazzar has one hand on the gold to make the viewer understand that Rembrandt has not forgotten that this gold was of the treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem, that Belshazzar would be punished because of his sacrilege, and that Belshazzar still clung to this gold. But there is no further decoration. The picture contains only the bare necessity of the meaning of the Bible story.

Rembrandt made a painting of instantaneous, culminating action. Belshazzar sees suddenly the fiery letters that a divine hand writes. His surprise is sudden; he jumps up from his chair. His eyes open wide and he has a fearful gesture to avoid an aggression. He stretches his arm so as top protect himself from the possible anger that the words may hold. That gesture and the surprise will not last for long, but Rembrandt captured it at its height of drama and we suspect –we know – that this is a moment caught at the very instant, that it will not last even a second more. Rembrandt went as far in his depiction of action as to draw a servant lady on the right, bending her back in fear and apprehension, hiding under Belshazzar’s arm, avoiding being hit by the King’s rash and unexpected movement, dropping some wine fro man overturned cup. We see even a drop of wine just coming out of the sumptuous golden beaker. Once could not show in a more direct way an act caught in the exact moment of movement. And as if this did not suffice, Rembrandt painted almost exactly the same scene to the left, using the same trick of depiction, which is an element of form in the art of painting, since he showed a lady there at the banquet overturning another golden cup of wine. Here too the wine spills out from the cup, on the table. The wine still pours out. On the faces of the personages in this left part of the picture we also see surprise, fear, apprehension and the mouths fall open. It seems Rembrandt repeated effects twice in his painting to make himself perfectly clear to the viewer, for also the mouth of the Babylonian old councillor of the king falls open. Rembrandt wonderfully expressed these instantaneous emotions in his personages.

There is no doubt that the figure in the centre of the painting is the King. He wears a magnificent, heavily gold-brocaded cape over a rich robe and over a heavy golden chain studded with precious stones of various colours. Gold is not just on the table, it is all over Belshazzar. He wears a high turban with a gaudy and bejewelled knot that hangs down, ending in rare feathers. On top of the turban the crown looks more like a Western crown than to an ancient oriental symbol of power. Such splendid jewels, rich dress and gold can only adorn a king. No viewer could have small doubt that the central figure is the King of Babylon.

The composition that Rembrandt brought in the painting is very roughly a pyramid, by Belshazzar, but Rembrandt applied a structure that is much modulated and his pyramid is very opened, wide, by the movement of the King’s arm. Rembrandt applied symmetry. He placed figures to the left and right of Belshazzar and even the Queen in front of him, but these masses of colour are very different. This composition helps the main characteristic of the picture, the movement caught in the act. There is not one straight vertical direction in the painting, except in the very central pattern on Belshazzar’s chest and some to the extreme left, on the Queen. All other lines and directions of the figures are slanting, to indicate movement. Belshazzar also leans to his right and these directions tower in the painting but are equally in non-equilibrium, unstable and sudden. Rembrandt followed the left diagonal, which direction goes over the King’s arm that touches the gold plate, to the richly brocaded gold cape of the king and then to the letters of fire in the upper right corner. Rembrandt avoided symmetry in colours, to break the symmetry of figures. The servant lady on the right is thus dressed in red but she shows her bare shoulders in wonderful golden hues, whereas on the opposite side, to the left, the figures are painted in sombre, black tones and hues. The letters on the wall are very bright, but opposite them, in the lower left corner, sits the Queen, much less conspicuously, half-hidden, dressed in black. In this way Rembrandt did show symmetries but use colour to modulate them, bring them in contrast rather than in harmony.

Besides the main aspect of the painting, its movement, one must admire Rembrandt’s colours. The golden cape of Belshazzar, the golden plates on the table, the velvet red colour of the servant, the pearls and white coughs of the Queen and on Belshazzar’s turban are not only wonderful hues; they are also endlessly varied in tone and intensity. There is only deep red on the servant lady in the lower right corner; other wise Rembrandt used black, yellow and white, but he varied much these hues to splendour for the eye. The painting of ‘Belshazzar seeing the Writing on the Wall’ is a picture of a point source of light; here the source is the letters of fire. From there, light falls dramatically on the scene and Rembrandt painted all the difficult contrasts of light and darkness in total detail, like few other masters would have been able to do. He sculpted for instance in light the bare shoulders of the servant girl and showed marvellously how the light could play on the golden beaker she holds in her hands. Rembrandt’s hands are always masterly painted and that is also the case in this painting, from Belshazzar’s right hand that still grabs at the gold of Jerusalem on the table and seems to keep on to that despite everything, to the open fingers of the servant’s left hand. Moreover, we see here again the great talent of Rembrandt in depicting tiny details, such as in the jewel chain on Belshazzar’s chest. We see also in detail Belshazzar’s face, his sophisticated beard and thin moustache, signs of the sensual man, his long but forceful broad face, which denotes pleasure instead of determination and will-power.

Rembrandt was about thirty years old when he made this painting, but at that time he had gained a mastery of depiction which most other painters only reached late in age – or never. Rembrandt knew how to paint in the slightest detail and we can see how he must have loved bringing in some of them in his painting. He knew marvellous pure hues, the rich gold and tactile red, and the splendid white hues. But he knew very well how to use all these elements of style with moderation and to subdue, modulate this talent entirely to his vision of a scene. Rembrandt’s ‘Belshazzar’ remained unequalled.

Other paintings:

Daniel in the Lions’ Den

Darius appointed a hundred and twenty satraps and among the three governors of his kingdom he kept Daniel. Darius even considered giving the governance of this entire kingdom to Daniel. The satraps sought for a trap on Daniel then, so they went to Darius asking him to publish an edict that anyone who within the next thirty days prayed to anyone else but Darius, divine or human, that person should be thrown in the lion’s pit. Darius signed the edict. Daniel continued to pray to Yahweh three times a day, so the satraps denounced him to Darius. The king was much distressed and caught in his own words, but however he racked his brains to find a solution to save Daniel, he could not but condemn Daniel. The king ordered Daniel to be brought in and be thrown into the lion’s den. But he said to Daniel that his God would surely save him. The pit was closed with a heavy stone and Darius sealed it with his own signet. The next morning at dawn, Darius went to the pit, opened the stone, and called out for Daniel. Daniel was still alive. He said an Angel of God had sealed the lions’ jaws. Daniel was harmless. Darius was overjoyed and ordered Daniel to be hauled from the pit. The king now threw the men that had denounced Daniel in the lions’ den, as well as their families, and the lions devoured them instantly. Darius then wrote a letter to all nations to acknowledge the glory of Daniel’s God. Daniel went well under the reign of Darius the Mede and also under Cyrus the Persian.

Daniel in the Lions’ Den

Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625). Pinacoteca Ambrosiana – Milan. 1610.

Daniel in the Lions’ Den

Pieter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). The National Gallery of Art. Washington.

Jan Brueghel the Elder, called the ‘Velvet’ Brueghel, lived in the town of Antwerp. He was the son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the brother of Pieter Brueghel II the Younger, the uncle of Jan van Kessel, the father-in-law of David Teniers the Younger, the father of Jan Brueghel II the Younger, the friend of Pieter Paul Rubens and of Sir Anthony van Dyck and, more importantly, the friend of Cardinal Federico Borromeo of Milan. Jan Brueghel studied first in Antwerp, then travelled to Italy in 1589 and visited several cities there, among which Rome and Milan. In 1596 he was back in Antwerp, where in 1602 he became the Dean of the Antwerp Guild of Painters. He was an esteemed citizen of the largest metropolitan port town of Western Europe. Jan Brueghel was also a court painter of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella of Brabant and Flanders. He painted marvellous flower pieces so that he earned soon the nickname ‘velvet’ Brueghel, as well as landscapes. Many other painters asked him to paint landscapes behind their figures, it was his main specialty. During his stay in Rome he met Cardinal Federico Borromeo, who was always avid to meet talented painters, especially the ones that answered to his tastes. Cardinal Borromeo was a Maecenas, founder of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana and the Accademia del Disegno in Milan, patron of Caravaggio and of Bernardino Luini among other artists. Jan Brueghel was the guest of the Cardinal in Milan in 1595 and later, when back in Antwerp, for many years he and the Cardinal corresponded and stayed in touch. Brueghel bought paintings of landscapes for the Cardinal and sent them to Milan. It was for Flemish landscape pictures that Cardinal Borromeo admired Brueghel and the artist regularly made such paintings for the Cardinal. The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana of Milan now houses one of the largest collections of paintings of Jan Brueghel the Elder, and certainly the best, in the world. Jan Brueghel died in 1625.

‘Daniel in the Lions’ den’ is a painting on copper. Copper is a fine medium to paint on in the smallest detail and to obtain a brilliance that is harder to get on canvas. Jan Brueghel indeed made an astonishingly rich picture, a ‘tour de force’ of details as only Flemish-Brabant painters took the patience to deliver.

We see Daniel in a very large cave or pit in the ground, surrounded by lions, which apparently leave him unharmed. Daniel sits on one knee and he prays with folded hands to his God. A large crowd of courtiers, led by the King, has gathered around the hole. Brueghel painted a great multitude of people, shown in a half-circle around the pit. He used all light colours here, all the pure hues he could find; so that we see people dressed in blue, red, white, and the King wears robes of golden hues. Behind this scene is a landscape of green grass and trees, which contrasts nicely with the colours of the people. Behind the green woods lies a farther landscape, which Brueghel painted in gentle blue so as to blend with the skies. The soft blue evokes far perspective, in aerial perspective of hues, and Brueghel opened the view here wide and deep to lend an impression of very far space to the viewers of his painting. There is much to discover in way of details in the picture, details of people, natural landscapes and cityscapes, so that Cardinal Borromeo could look at the painting endlessly and still discover new elements.

Jan Brueghel showed a composition in the form of a flat, horizontal X. He curved the pit but in symmetry around the horizontal central axis he placed also the skyline of the green wood and the blue far landscape. He used brown colours predominantly for the pit, fine pure hues of all variety on the people and then, higher up, green and blue. Brueghel may thus have painted an allegorical theme of hell, limbo, earth and heaven. Daniel sits in the pit, which is a deep hole in the round earth. The pit could represent the hell. Daniel sits among the lions and tigers and in a fearful view large bones lie around there too. But Daniel courageously dares to kneel, in the middle of the pit, dressed in fine blue and with a pure red cloak. The theme then of Daniel climbing out of the pit, out of hell, may have charmed Cardinal Borromeo as an allegory of Easter, of the Resurrection of Jesus. The people around the pit then represent the church, led by the King, who is here in admiration of God’s works and in sympathy with Daniel. Daniel could represent the martyred saint, and hence the clergy.

Brueghel painted a crowd of people, but all are dressed otherwise and set in different poises. People are sitting as well as standing around the pit. The King leans down with caution. A boy and a dog stand newt to him and these images always mean loyalty and dependence, in this case maybe also the loyalty of the king to Catholic faith. The king is compared to a young child, for which the Church cares. People are chatting and pointing and two men in the background have even climbed up a hill to see better what happens in the front.

Brueghel painted a marvellous dream palace to the left in a pleasure garden of green grasses and bushes, near a lake. Then to the right he showed wonderfully detailed green trees, painted in various shades of green to yellow hues, lightly brought on the metal medium. Under the trees he painted other people, either walking of riding on horseback. Finally, we have a soft view in a blue light haze of a broad river, which might be the River Schelde, and a port town such as Antwerp might have been, with high Gothic cathedrals and a proud bridge. Brueghel even painted birds flying in the air, so that together with the lively scene of the curious court he provided a perfect illusion of a moment in time, caught in colours on the copper. In the sky too Brueghel demonstrated his fine sense of colour; we find here all the shades of white from the left, to the darker blue on the right.

All the details were painted in the tiniest element and only copper allowed such fine drawing and colouring. Brueghel detailed dresses, poises, hats, bright cloaks, lances, arms, boots, leafs on the trees, rocks, and animals in a real miniature masterpiece. Only on a copper plate could one obtain such rich detail and variation of colours. Yet, Jan Brueghel wonderfully preserved order in his painting, in the natural order of the elements and also of the spiritual concept of the world. ‘Daniel in the Lions’ den’ could not but have enchanted Federico Borromeo by its clever meaning, content and by the skill of the strange Brabant artist that had come from so far to sell his art. It was a rare masterpiece that the Brabant master sent to Milan, and it was kept there lovingly to be admired like a rare delicacy of a piece of art for centuries.

Pieter Paul Rubens' Painting of Daniel in the Lions' Den

Pieter Paul Rubens was Antwerp’s most important master of Brabant’s seventeenth century and probably the most prolific, bets know, dishful, gentle, proud, and grand painter of Belgium ever. He was an artist who epitomised Baroque art like no other. Nobody but Rubens could depict the emotions of personages in such a fine way and so ostentatiously, yet often also subtly, and get away with the obviousness of the sensibility. The ornamental aspect of his paintings still charms instead of enervating viewers. It is impossible to be angry with a painting of Pieter Paul Rubens, gentleman and ambassador, because this master showed such an enthusiasm for life, for all things beautiful and gracious without afterthought, without bitterness, and without blame. Rubens told to enjoy life, to enjoy nature and sensuality and to do that without shame or remorse. If his exuberance sometimes weighs heavily on the conscience, we have seen so many other sophisticated pictures of his hand or from his workshop that we gracefully forgive him. Rubens’ nudes were opulent; they were not the slim aristocratic ladies of the Renaissance Italian painters. But Rubens taught to accept them as they were, to love them and cherish them.

‘Daniel in the Lions’ Den’ is one of his more restraint pictures, in which decorative elements do not overwhelm the scene. Daniel sits in the centre of the Lions’ den and we see him from downwards, from low under Daniel and the lions. Jan Brueghel the Elder made a picture of this same theme, in which he took the contrary point of view: Brueghel overlooked a grand scene from above and placed the horizon low. Rubens however, entirely Baroque, brought the view closer to his subject, to the sole figure of the drama and no other people divert the viewer’s attention from the scene. The viewer is with Daniel in the pit and with Daniel he or she looks up, higher up, to the clear sky. The sky is really far away, unreachable for Daniel, and the opening of the pit is small – whereas Jan Brueghel painted a wide hole in the ground that spectators could watch from all sides. Rubens painted Daniel all alone, looking up in despair at the far and small opening of the den. Daniel is alone and he prays fervently to his God. He is naked but for a white loincloth or shirt and a red cape. He prays desperately, eyes uplifted in awesome fear and hopeful expectation, given over to Yahweh. He stands with more apathy than with determination. He knows he can do nothing else but rely in his God. As Daniel is naked, Rubens could of course show a powerfully muscled, fine young man, so that he could prove his skills at depicting anatomy.

The lions are all around Daniel. Rubens painted them so marvellously that we can hear one or two of the roar with frustration. Most of the lions are calm however: one even dozes off. Yet bones and skulls lie around. Rubens here also preferred to show the feline, easy power of the animals, which might charge in a fraction of an instant to aggression and mean the end of Daniel’s life on earth. Rubens painted the lions in wonderful chiaroscuro and as realistically as we might desire. In composition, he painted the lions and the pit in brown colours, which form a uniform mood. The mood is earthy and relaxed due to these colours, but also of course because the viewer remarks easily that no lion leaps or seems to move rashly. Then Rubens positioned Daniel in very bright colours in their midst, contrasting his figure nicely against the lions so that the viewer’s attention goes immediately and effortless to the young Prophet. The red patch of colour of the cape is the only pure, bright hue in the picture so that it is a marvellous area of colour in the painting. If one wants to draw attention to a part of a painting, one has to use one bright and pure are of colour like this: it is a very efficient way of focusing and drawing the viewer’s eye. Rubens then seemed to have used the left diagonal as the main direction in his picture since both Daniel’s figure is along that line and also the higher part of the red cloak. Rubens suggested with this direction, along which also Daniel looks, the aspirations of the hero of his picture: to be saved from the pit as quickly as possible, and his spiritual hopes and pleas to God, who Daniel sees situated higher up, in the heavens. Daniel sees only a small patch of that heaven, but deliverance and rescue must come from there.

Pieter Paul Rubens painted a picture with a simple theme, in a simple depiction, which has however maximum effect on the viewer. The viewer sees all the strength of the fierce animals and pities the helpless, young Daniel. Yet all his calm indicates that eventually Daniel will be succoured for his reliance on God. It is a marvellous painting, which shows also Rubens’ mastery of drama and mastery of the reserve by which he could depict emotions if he only wanted to.

Other paintings:

Visions of Daniel

While Belshazzar was newly King of Babylon, Daniel had a vision in the night. He saw the four winds stir up the Great Sea. Four beasts emerged from it. The first beast was a lion with wings of an eagle. While Daniel was looking, its wings were torn off and the beast stood on its feet like a human and it was given a human heart. The second animal was a bear, with three ribs between its teeth. A voice told the beast to get up and eat much flesh. The third beast was a leopard with four wings and four heads. The beast received authority. The fourth beast was the most terrifying. It was a real monster. It crushed its victims. It had ten horns and among these sprouted another horn that had human eyes. This animal boasted loudly. Now thrones were set up and God took his seat. He wore a white robe and his throne was of burning fire. The multitudes waited on him. The beast with the boastful horn was put to death and the other beasts were deprived of their empires but they received a lease on their lives for a season and a time. Daniel was deeply disturbed. He asked a person that was standing by what all this meant. The person replied that the four beasts were four kings that would rise up from the earth. The three that had received royal power would keep their kingdoms forever. The fourth beast was the fourth kingdom. This would devour the whole world. The ten horns represented ten other kings that would rise from this one kingdom. The last horn would be one more king. This king would bring down three kings and insult the Most High, and plan to alter the Law and Time. But finally this kingdom would be destroyed and all its splendours would be given to the Holy Ones of God. Every empire then would serve God. Daniel had to keep this vision a secret.

In the third year of Belshazzar’s reign, Daniel had another vision. He stood in his dream at the Ulai Gate of Susa. He saw a ram standing in front of the gate. The ram had two horns, but the second horn was taller and higher than the first. The ram butted in all directions and it became very strong. Then a he-goat came from the west, encroaching on the entire world but never the animal touched the ground. The he-goat had one large, splendid horn between its eyes. The he-goat was enraged at the ram, charged it and furiously broke its horns. The he-goat threw the ram on the ground and trampled it. The he-goat grew so strong now that its great horn snapped off. In its place sprang four other magnificent horns, which pointed to the four winds of heaven. From the smallest of these horns sprang another one, which grew and grew towards the east and the south. It grew to the armies of the heaven and flung them and the stars to the ground so that the he-goat could trample them. The horn and goat challenged the sanctuary and the Holy Sacrifices. It installed iniquity and thwarted truth. A voice said that it would last two thousand and three hundred days. But then the sanctuary would be restored in its power. The Angel Gabriel suddenly stood besides Daniel and Gabriel interpreted Daniel’s vision for him. He said that the ram with the two horns were the Kings of Media and of Persia. The he-goat represented the King of Greece. From this kingdom would raise, like the four horns, four kingdoms. These kingdoms were however not as strong as the first. Lastly, one King would rise who would be arrogant, and self-sufficient. This king would challenge the power of God. But in the end this king would be broken by God. Gabriel told Daniel to write this down but to keep the vision a secret.

Daniel prayed to God, repented his sins, and asked for forgiveness. He asked God to turn away his anger and to smile again at his sanctuary in the city. Gabriel appeared once more to Daniel with the message that God had heard Daniel, and decreed a time of seventy weeks. During these seventy weeks the people and their Holy City had to expiate their crimes, and to abandon sin. Then they would receive sixty nine weeks to rebuild Jerusalem. After that the sanctuary would be destroyed once more by a prince. The end of that prince would be catastrophic. For the time of a week he would have alliances with many peoples. For the time of half a week the prince would stop the sacrifices to the sanctuary and put an abomination of an idol in the Temple’s wing. But in the end, this prince would meet doom.

In the third year of the reign of Cyrus, king of Persia, Daniel had a vision. Daniel saw a man dressed in linen with a belt of gold around his waist. His face looked like lightning, and his arms were as if of bronze. He spoke to Daniel. He said he had been fighting the King of Persia and had received assistance from one of his chief princes, Michael. God then told Daniel that he had come to tell him what was written in the Book of Truth. God said that three more kings would rise in Persia, and then a fourth. This fourth would be powerful and rich and make war on Greece. Then a king would rise to govern over a vast empire, but this empire would rapidly be broken up and parcelled to the four winds of heaven. The parts would not be ruled by his descendants. The King of the South would grow powerful but one of his princes more powerful still. These would conclude a treaty and the King of the South would give his daughter to the King of the North. A sprig from her roots would then force the stronghold of the King of the North and overcome him. This man would carry off treasures to Egypt. The King of the North would then gather his armies and invade the kingdom of the south. Enormous armies would clash between north and south. The King of the South would prevail and win the battle. But the King of the South would not stay strong for long. The King of the North would come back, two times even, and the forces of the south would lose ground. God explained to Daniel further in detail what would happen over time with the kings of the south and of the north. In the end, the King of the North would invade Egypt and Israel but Moab and Edom would escape. Attacked from the east and the north by other countries, he would halt and then be destroyed. The Angel Michael would rise in this period of distress to save the Jews. Daniel had to keep these words of God secret and seal his prophecy until the end had come.

The Fall of the Rebel Angels and the Archangel Michael

Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734). Dulwich Picture Gallery. Dulwich (London). Ca. 1720.

Sebastiano Ricci was born in Belluno in 1659. He studied painting in Venice with several masters, among which Federico Cevelli and later in Bologna with Giovanni dal Sole. He then travelled widely and painted in numerous North Italian cities such as Florence, Milan, Parma, Modena, and Bologna but also in Rome. In 1712 he event went to England with his younger brother Marco (1676-1730), who was equally an accomplished painter. He returned in 1716, leaving unfinished work of decoration in England. While returning from England he stayed a while in Holland, then in Paris and visited Antoine Watteau. He was even elected to the French Academy in 1716. He also worked in Vienna of Austria and worked in the Schönbrunn Palace there. He had several illicit love affairs, which made him often flee the places where he worked. He made a woman pregnant in Venice, and then tried to poison her, but she had him imprisoned. In bologna a papal official forced him to marry; Cardinal Antonio Pignatelli performed the marriage but this Cardinal would later become Pope Innocent XII, so that Sebastiano had also some powerful protectors. The scandals had little influence on his support by patrons; after all, he was an artist. Sebastiano Ricci was one of the most important painters and precursors of the revival of art in Venice of the eighteenth century and his scenes were as passionate and spectacular as the gallant episodes of his life.

The ‘Fall of the Rebel Angels’ was a picture made a few years after his return to Venice. Sebastiano Ricci’s pictures are usually very dramatic, with extraordinary views, but often also a little too well thought out, and such is also the case with this painting. The Archangel Michael defeats the rebel angels; so we see him triumphantly hovering with magnificent open wings over various nude bodies of the rebels, which he forces back into the f ire of hell. The picture is very mannered and obviously Baroque in inspiration, in its obvious display of violent movement and drama, but the flowing lines and chaotic representation forebodes the last years of the baroque era and the beginning of Rococo.

Sebastiano Ricci painted Michael in full action, with drawn and long sword, open white wings, dressed in blue armour and with flowing bright-red cloak and white robe. His shield radiates the divine light that pushes the devils down into hell. Ricci applied a brick-red in the angel’s cloak and an un-pure blue that suits well with the red. Moreover, for his chiaroscuro on Michael’s armour and on the cloak he used not only various shades of red and blue, but also many white hues, which are in both areas and thus make the red and blue areas also have similar, harmonious features? Nevertheless, the global harmony of hues as taught by titian and Tintoretto was the past by now: a new era had started and Sebastiano Ricci had not just worked and studied in Venice but in almost the entire known Europe, so he had the dash and power to show the Venetians less suiting hues. Ricci showed Michael as a wonderful, strong youth with luxurious blonde, flowing hair. And the Archangel does not look at the viewer, but he is at work driving back the rebel angels.

In his composition Ricci made a large pyramid of the Archangel Michael, of which the left side is formed by the figure of Michael himself and his legs that slant to the left, whereas the right side is formed by the rays that emanate from Michael’s shield. The pyramid is supported by the horizontal band of the rebel angels. Here we find no restful horizontal and vertical lines; the bodies are intertwined and there is chaos here of oblique lines, which intersect, none of which is parallel to the other, and the lines are a mixture of short and long segments that clash and cross. Ricci painted the rebel angels like Titans, with heavy muscled bodies, all are strong men. The angels indeed remind us of men, far more than the divine Archangel. The men are falling, pushed back by the Archangel. They are in obvious pain, holding their heads with their hands, throwing their arms upwards in vain attempts to avoid the intense light of the shield. Extremely dramatic also is the opened hand of a rebel and its long hand and fingers, which Ricci painted just in front of the white shield. The shield and its very bright light is really the centre view of the picture and Sebastiano Ricci’s commissioners must have been satisfied with dramatic view of God’s power, symbolised by the rays of light. This light then is thrown to the falling angels so that Ricci could sculpt the muscles of the men beneath to spectacular power, to images which owed to Michelangelo and Giulio Romano. The rebel angels were angels indeed, but Ricci could not show them in the same splendour as the young warrior Michael. So he painted them nude, more like men than as angels, linking the rebels to humanity, and giving them but short, feeble wings, which he coloured with the same brown and ochre hues that he used on the defeated rebels, everywhere in the lower part of the frame. These hues of course make one remind of the earth and make the viewer understand that humans are being thrown back to their realm. The humans are driven back to earth and hell. Sebastiano Ricci contrasted in the painting the bright colours of the avenging Archangel with the earthy hues of ochre. These colours were more suited to evoke and impression of doom, as contrasting with the splendour of the divine.

Sebastiano Ricci painted a spectacular picture in the Archangel Michael that drops from the heavens on a pack of rebel spirits. The painting could forcefully appeal to the imagination of his commissioners and of the faithful that came to see it. Ricci knew his job and he delivered drama and impact with the ease and intelligence of a travelling master painter of the eighteenth century.

Other paintings:

Susanna and the Elders

In Babylon lived a rich man called Joakim. He was married to a very beautiful woman called Susanna, daughter of Hilkiah. She was very devout and God-fearing. That year, two elderly men had been selected from the people to act as judges and as Joakim opened his house to many, these elders were often in Joakim’s house. Susanna used to take walks in her garden and the two judges saw her frequently there. They began to desire her. They also admitted their desire for Susanna to each other.

On a hot day, Susanna came again to the garden, only accompanied by two young maidservants. She asked these to bring some oil and to shut the garden doors while she bathed there. The two elders had concealed themselves in the garden, and as Susanna was alone, they rushed upon her. The elders proposed a choice to her. She could either let the elders have her there, or the elders would give evidence that a young man had been with her in the garden and that this was the reason why she had sent her servants away and closed the doors. Susanna sighed. She knew that she was trapped, but she did not want to sin. So she cried out loud. The elders now also cried loudly. When all the servants came into the garden, the two elders brought forward their accusations to the appalled servants.

The next day too the elders accused Susanna to her husband Joakim and pleaded to put her to death. Susanna was summoned to her husband and she came in, very beautiful, but veiled. The elders repeated their story and Susanna was condemned to death. Susanna then prayed to her God.

The Lord appealed to the Holy Spirit in Daniel and suddenly Daniel, who had been looking at the woman being led away to be killed, shouted out that he wanted to be innocent of this woman’s death. Everybody was surprised and Daniel had some respite to tell to the people that the elders had given false evidence. Daniel asked to take the elders separately and to interrogate them. The people granted Daniel his wish.

Daniel asked to the first elder under what tree he had seen Susanna and the young man lying. The first man told it had been an acacia tree. Daniel then asked the same question to the second man, and this elder answered that it had been an aspen tree. Daniel now denounced them to the people and the punishment that was given to them was the same as they had schemed for Susanna: they were put to death by stoning. Susanna was acquitted of any crime.

Susanna and the Elders

Grigori Ignatevich Lapchenko (1801-1876). Russian State Museum. St Petersburg. Ca. 1831.

Susanna and the Elders

Jacopo di Antonio Negreti called Palma il Giovane (1548-1628). Casa Rezzonico. Egidio Martini Collection. Venice.

Susanna and the Elders

Jan Massys (active 1531-1575). The Museum of Ancient Art. Brussels. 1567.

Susanna and the Elders

Artemisia Gentileschi (1493-1552). Graf von Schonborn Kunstsammlungen. Schloss Weissenstein, Pommersfelden. 1610.

Alexander Andrejevitch Ivanov and Grigori Ignatevich Lapchenko, two young Russian artists, arrived in Rome in 1830. They had received funds from the Society of Painters of St Petersburg and from wealthy patrons, and they intended to study Roman and Italian art. In Rome they met other foreign painters, among whom many German painters, and a group that looked at the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen as the newest prodigy of the arts. They met not just the artists, they also shared their models. One of the models of Thorvaldsen was an Italian girl from Albino outside Rome, called Vittoria Caldoni. This Vittoria had been a model for an impressive list of artists, among whom Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), the Nazarene painters Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869) and Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872), for Franz Ludwig Catel (1778-1856), for Wilhelm Hensel (1794-1810), for Theodor Rehbenitz (1791-1861), for the French painter Horace Vernet (1789-1863), for the sculptor Rudolph Schadow (1786-1822), and of course for the young Russians Ivanov and Lapchenko. The girl had been discovered in 1820, when she was only about fifteen years old, by a German diplomat in Rome, an ambassador of the Hanoverian House, a Maecenas and a collector, called August Kestner (1777-1853). Kestner had seen in the girl the impersonification of the Roman ideal beauty and he had brought her to Rome with him. She stayed in the Villa Malta, which was then the consulate of Hanover, and Kestner showed her a few hours a day to the artists. He reported already of 44 portraits made of her D10 . The artists saw in her the ideals of females painted by Raphael and Botticelli.

Grigori Lapchenko equally painted Vittoria Caldoni, and he did more than that: he married her in 1839 and took her with him to Russia.

Lapchenko’s ‘Susanna and the Elders’ contains merely and only the figure of the nude Susanna against a background of a fine garden. Susanna is Vittoria Caldoni. Lapchenko did picture in the Elders of the bible story, but he hid them in a background of dark colours not only for Susanna but also for the viewer. Lapchenko had to paint a scene with a story, and preferably a Bible story. The theme was even less an excuse for the portraiture of a nude than it was in any other picture of this theme. But Vittoria Caldoni was worth while painting alone and not much more was needed to make a splendid painting. The St Petersburg painters and professors were only half duped.

Vittoria-Susanna sits. She is slim, elegant, and proud. She is unaware of any harm in the garden, believing her privacy undisturbed but for the painter. She sits near the fountain in which she will take her bath. She has laid off her clothes and holds a last white cloth high in her hands. She may already have taken her bath and be drying her body with the white linen. Therefore she offers her arms, her long legs, and her ivory body to the eyes of Lapchenko, who could paint her nudity completely. Vittoria looks expectantly from under the linen, and she draws the white cloth over her back and over her head so that she can peer from under it joyously and teasingly. Yet, she is all innocence and simplicity. There is coquetry in her gesture, but it would be hard to blame her or to accuse her of hard sexuality. She crosses her legs prudishly and she holds one hand on her lap, drawing the cloth together there. She protects herself from the viewer’s looks, Lapchenko’s looks, which she knows to be there and watching her intently.

Lapchenko painted his Susanna holding thus one arm high, in a poise that would have ravished Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres. Ingres painted a nude called ‘The Source’ and in this picture also balance of poise was masterly sought. Lapchenko balanced with Susanna’s gesture her long, gracious legs which equally are set somewhat aside. Lapchenko drew Vittoria’s body fine, sensuous curves. She is the incarnation of the classical Venus, of the unblemished ideal of Greek and Roman classical beauty. Lapchenko painted a wonderful nude; the theme was merely an excuse devised after the nude had been painted. Lapchenko admired Vittoria already, but the nude is of a prim, modest yet splendid young woman.

The rest of Lapchenko’s painting therefore is insignificant, though Lapchenko painted it with great skill. He showed water dripping from the fountain in the foreground; he painted the red clothes of Susanna, her sandals, her cloak, with very great and detailed attention. The chiaroscuro in the red robe is magnificent, as best as could be. He painted a cityscape of a Roman architecture discreetly in the right upper corner and also a fine view of the green bushes of the garden behind his model. The Elders are among the green foliage on the left side, hidden in the dark colours. They are only in the picture to create a reference to the theme.

Lapchenko painted his Vittoria Caldoni like a marble statue, yet in delicate bright fleshy hues. Vittoria Caldoni is an ivory statue, sculpted by a genius Greek artist into a mind ideal. Her figure shimmers with light and here also Lapchenko sculpted her nudity in light and in gentle shadows with love and talent. Lapchenko was clearly falling in low, otherwise he would not have shown Vittoria so sympathetically simple and innocent and some of the empathy of the young woman for the painter shows also in her attitude of ease combined with just a touch of flirtation. Schnorr von Carolsfeld once wrote that only Vittoria’s face responded to the classical ideal, that nothing was to be done with her body; she could really not be admired in that. D10. Schnorr wrote that after he had seen Overbeck’s picture painted in 1821. Caldoni was then only fifteen. She had grown up. Lapchenko’s Vittoria Caldoni was perfect. She was still the chaste Susanna. We sense in Lapchenko’s picture the respect he had for the model, the admiration and affection that would lead him to ask her to come with him to Russia.

Palma Giovane's Picture

Jacopo di Antonio Negreti was called Palma Giovane because he was the great-nephew of another famous painter of Venice, Palma Vecchio. He was born in the lagoon town in 1544. Palma Giovane worked in Venice and completed Titian’s Pietà, which the master of all Venetian masters had left unfinished at his death. Palma Giovane worked for the Scuola’s and churches of Venice, for the Doge’s Palace and he had a large workshop. He painted on mythological subjects, as well as at religious and historical pictures. He worked in the times when Venetian painting was till at its best, alongside titian, Paolo Veronese and Jacopo Tintoretto.

Palma Giovane made a painting of the theme of ‘Susanna and the Elders’ and that picture is a sheer Venetian joy. He painted an ample, nude Susanna in the centre of the frame, stepping into her garden bath. She is a fine Venetian lady with long blond hair that flows down her amber shoulders, long and luxurious and which underscores her sensuality. She has a nice filled face and body, a body made to invite for sweet loving. She is not a very young girl, but the maturer Venetian courtesan, well in the flesh, like the powerful Venetians must have preferred. Her forms are of a mature woman with strong thighs and full legs, a belly ample for bearing children. She might be the chaste Susanna, but she looks as if she couldn’t care less for the word. She has lain off her white shirt and holds that elegantly, entreating gracefully her maidservant to leave her alone in the garden. The maid has brought a basket with perfumes, oils, a sponge and washing cloths, and that basket is now set alongside Susanna on the marble bath. The servant leaves, but Palma Giovane placed her high in the painting so that she bends her head and shoulders, and in doing that she also exposes some of her alluring nudity. Palma Giovan knew how to seduce his male viewers and add sensual touches wherever he could. Palma Giovane made Susanna move her right arm in the direction of the servant, and this girl also with her right hand proposes the bath to Susanna. If Susanna inclines her head to the left, the servant slants to the right and thus balances the natural movement of Susanna.

The figure of the maidservant also balances the scene of the left side, of the two Elders that hide between the trees. One of them wears an oriental turban and the Elders conspire, looking from behind a green bush. Palma Giovane also applied symmetry in the colours because he used red colours to the left in the Elders and as well that same hue on the servant. He placed Susanna in full light and let that light sculpt the woman lavishly and sensually. He also used fine contrasts of shadows on the folds of the dress of the maidservant and we see all lines curb and flow there. Such is also the general mood: as most of the lines in the picture are curved and smooth, equally of course on Susanna, on the garden trees and on the Elders, the viewer receives an impression of gentle elegance and ease. The only hard lines in the picture are in the marble bath, but even there Palma Giovane painted an ornamental sculpture with curved lines on the left side. The bath is a fountain and Palma Giovane showed the water that was so much present everywhere in Venice.

The artist painted Susanna in full. She and the servant fill the picture, close to the viewer. Yet, no figure looks at the viewer so that the viewer is not really taken as a witness, is not involved in the scene: the viewer is not a part of the painting and it is as if he or she does not exist. Even the Elders, though they conspire and engage in interested conversation, seem still to be wondering what to do and do not really take part in the action. They are as yet the silent admirers, more than the men that will encroach on the woman and come closer to her. Palma Giovane painted a scene in which Susanna retains her innocence and in which the two Elders are merely the old man that have passed by and discovered the glorious nude that is Susanna. The Elders do not leer at the lady. Palma Giovane painted one as a wise old man with a long white beard, the other with a high turban, which makes something of an elegant, dishful courtier of him rather than the ugly criminal. Their admiration remains platonic so far.

Palma Giovane made a nice, admirable picture of the Bible story, which allowed him to paint a Venetian nude. Nudes were one of his specialties and he could paint them sweetly and sensually as no other. Nothing in his picture however is intrusive, hurting, obsessive or moralising. Palma Giovane only dwells on the magnificent nude woman in pure esteem for female beauty and attractiveness, in wonder of the elegance and splendour of nature, without afterthought. In this way, Palma Giovane seduces the viewer with Susanna. His painting thus has become a sheer joy for the senses.

Jan Massys' View of Susanna

Jan Massys was the son of Quinten Massys, a well known painter of Antwerp. Little is known of his life but that he became a master in the Guild of painters of Antwerp in 1531, was banished from the town in 1543 from heresy, then spent long years in Italy before returning to Antwerp around 1767 or 1568. His brother, Cornelis Massys (1513-1579) was also a painter.

The theme of Susanna and the Elders was extremely popular with painters. Scenes of the naked Susanna, like scenes of Bathsheba in her bath, were themes from the Bible that allowed showing the female body in splendid nudity. They joined themes from classical antiquity like pictures of Venus, Diana and her nymphs. Although paintings of ‘Susanna and the Elders’ was a depiction of a Bible story, they were often handled exactly in the same way as pictures of Venus and Diana, with the added touch of lechery and voyeurism which made it just the little bit more dangerous, intriguing, enticing, and erotically more appealing than the pictures of classical themes. And because the theme came from the bible, it offered always some relief of conscience, some excuse, for justifying the expense to one’s wife and friends. Jan Massys’ painting is such a picture and one of the best examples of the real reason of existence of such images. But Jan Massys had in some way or other also to demonstrate that he had remained the rebel that had been banned from Antwerp. There is a theme upon a theme in his picture, a moral story upon another moral story.

The picture must have been made right after Massys’ return to Brabant. Massys had seen the Renaissance paintings in Italy and the growing Mannerism in that country. He may also have worked in France and since the largest single workplace there had been around first the French King Francis I and then his successors’ castle of Fontainebleau, some of that style is also visible in his painting. In Fontainebleau worked Rosso Fiorentino, Il Primaticcio and Niccolò dell’Abate, and some of their exaggerations of representation show up in Jan Massys’ work. He placed a very nude Susanna sitting as if on a throne, gloriously, in a luxurious exotic garden. She is naked but she still wears her jewels, among which the arm band that links her to her husband. She is merely covered by a white lace cloth and entreats her servants to leave. She sits against a very ornamented, decorative sculpture and puts forward elegantly but alluringly a long, equally naked leg. Susanna sits and her body forms a traditional pyramid structure, which Jan Massys enhanced by the marvellous blue velvet, heavy cloak that she had laid off and on which she sits. She sits like an arrogant queen on her rich dress, firmly, rigidly, inviting to be admired.

Susanna sits to display her feminine attractiveness, like live and a true Venus. She sits calmly, with straight back, with dignity and defiance, like a goddess, with fine golden necklaces around her long neck and her hair elaborately worked up. She glorifies in her nudity and she catches the sun on her body. She is slim, with small straight breasts, not really a symbol of full sensuality as Pieter Paul Rubens would later paint, but still alluring enough to tempt any man.

Massys placed secondary scenes to the right and left around Susanna, in a symmetrical way. On the right of the frame he placed Susanna’s servants and to the left he shows the two elders. In these scenes he brought lively movement and drama, for the two lady servants are leaving and the two Elders bend, hide and whisper toe ach other. In the centre, Susanna is quite a static figure, as she sits, and Massys painter her mainly in a strict vertical poise. So Jan Massys allows the viewer to admire and relish Susanna, and to continue admiring her since he introduced no illusion of movement on her. He showed her fine leg and she opens her arms, opens her body to contemplation, but does not move. The lady servants however are in full action. They run and Massys painted them in slanting lines. They leave and that way in which their bodies recline show their intentions, their actions. He made heads and faces slant too, and cloaks flow elegantly around them in a direction opposite to where they go, again indicating action. Slanting lines are always powerful means to depict movement, so Jan Massys also painted the two Elders basically in slanting positions.

The two Elders hide behind the marble sculpture. Jan Massys painted the Elders really like the lechers and voyeurs they are: old, ugly, bending to hide and conspiring against a lady. They are dressed in simple brown robes and they incite each other to silence, as conspirators do. The Elders wear simple brown robes, but one of them shows a leg, just like Susanna does, and here the viewer discovers fine, light boots that shape leg and foot like so many signs of hidden sensuality. They are both heavy-bearded and we cannot but compare them to monks. The decorative sculpture behind which they are separated from Susanna looks much like an altar. On the altar stands a vase but instead of the wine of Holy Mass this contains the balms or perfumes for Susanna’s body. The two elders are monks hiding behind an altar to relish at Susanna, conspiring to rape her. The picture of Jan Massys then becomes not just an allegory of lechery and voyeurism but also an allegory on the sins and hypocrisy of the clergy, a Protestant pamphlet. The monks vowed to chastity but Massys shows their lust for the nude Susanna. This theme is eminently Protestant then, disguised in a bible scene that might have been commissioned even by Catholic traders of Antwerp.

Jan Massys was a fine painter. He knew well how to detail his figures and decorations and he also brought fine chiaroscuro on the folds of the robes and cloaks and he sculpted with light Susanna’s nice, slim body. The scene of Susanna and the Elders is placed in the mower part of the picture, but it covers about three fourths of the horizontal space. In the upper part Jan Massys shows a wide landscape of an Italian Renaissance town, with towers, as he might have seen in Florence or Venice, and early Baroque façades of churches, covered with expensive marble. He painted the cityscape behind the trees, which are as well the leaf trees of the North as the palm trees of the South, which should add an oriental touch. The skies above the trees are agitated with white but heavy clouds, finely detailed.

Jan Massys may not be known as a great master of Antwerp, and just as the son of the famous painter of Brabant that Quinten Massys was, but he made with ‘Susanna and the Elders’ a very fine, elaborate picture that is well designed, nicely coloured in harmonious hues and that contains a strong, double moralising theme. Massys disguised a direct, fervent critic on the morals of the Catholic church of his town in an already not too innocent Bible scene. But Susanna is a glorious lady who will win and Massys painted like her an unreachable, glorious beauty. Susanna dominates everything in the picture. The power is with her, not with the Elders, who are nothing but creepy and feeble old men. The ideals of the Renaissance Protestants are in this picture impersonified by Susanna, the hypocrisy of the Catholic clergy of his times by the Elders.

Artemisia Gentileschi and the Theme of Susanna

Artemisia Gentileschi painted ‘Susanna and the Elders’ to a very powerful picture. It is one of the first paintings that clearly formulate the condemnation of the aggression of men on female and the message came from a woman who had felt the aggression herself. Two elders creep over a marble frieze to assault the very young Susanna. Gentileschi’s Susanna does not sit in a garden filled with luxurious flowers and exotic trees, where she might be considered a classical Venus or Diana utilising her nudity to triumph over the world. She is a true, simple girl, not the stylised slim deity, but a common Italian woman, well in flesh and with normal, lusty breasts. Artemisia Gentileschi painted however as a victim, in a contorted, twisted position of pain. Artemisia’s Susanna averts her head extremely to the left side and she extends her arms towards the other side to rebuke, repulse the Elders. She is not tall; she has not the long legs of a fashion model. She plies her legs under her, in a broken poise which however is a marvel of balanced composition because the legs form a counterweight to the outstretched arms. The poise of Susana is one of a broken and frightened bird, but it is also very efficient in the academic way of presenting a female nude, like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres would have admired two centuries later. Susanna is not the goddess that exposes her body proudly and with defiance. She is caught in the gaze of the Elders and the poise expresses her distress at the looks. She is horrified by the eyes that imprison her and from which she cannot escape. Her body is not captured by the Elders, but her mind is. Still, she resists and refuses the invasion of her privacy. In this painting, nudity is not a glory but an object. She is a vulnerable and frightened girl, but only an object for the Elders. Artemisia Gentileschi painted one of the first pictures that can be considered to be a pamphlet of the growing conscience of the value of women, of women as humans that can exist and live and have status in society independently of men. But the painting is still a denunciation of the fact that women often are purely seen as objects by men, objects that can be consumed and have no rights of their own.

The two Elders look from behind a frieze. Gentileschi painted them only partly in view. The Elders are hidden behind the frieze. They embrace like predators. Artemisia Gentileschi painted Susanna in a vertical position, very close to the viewer. She painted the Elders horizontally and wide, hanging in a horizontal band over the frieze but slightly in a triangle. Susanna and the Elders thus form an arrow, in which Susanna is the shaft and the Elders the arrowhead. The effect of this very new and untraditional from on the viewer is sharp and angular, and effect of pain, anger and tension, which strongly contrasts with all other paintings of this theme, in which flowing, curved, delicate, elegant sensuality is usually expressed. Gentileschi painted sharp terror and her composition supports her view. The Elders still discuss on what they plan to do to Susanna. They loom menacing over the frieze, and they leer at the nude girl. One man urges to silence but his gesture is also one of reflection, of premeditation on how Susanna could be caught, what could be done to her and how. The assault is not sudden and passionate but cold and well thought out. The two men know what they are doing when they will come over the frieze, in complete and full responsibility. Gentileschi demonstrates that there is no excuse of sudden passion for their act.

The very disturbing element of the picture is not just the lechery of the old men. One of the men looks at the viewer, while the other urges to silence. So there are three personages on the painting but the fourth personage, the viewer, is equally very present and plays a role in the scene. For Artemisia Gentileschi, the third man in the picture is the viewer and the viewer must be a man. Susanna, in her nakedness and distress, is not caught in the looks of two pairs of eyes but also by the viewer. And Artemisia seems to claim that the act of aggression on Susanna happens over and over again, for her picture remains, does not move, does not go away and is thus a permanent accusation on what all men of the world do sometimes to all women. The viewer is taken for more as a witness, the viewer is but one more man involved in the tragedy that causes the obvious pain on Susanna’s face.

Artemisia Gentileschi did not place Susanna in a surrounding of warm mood, of green and red colours of a fine garden. She sits against a background that must be very cold, the white marble. There is a decoration in the marble just behind her back, a drawing in stone of many curbs that looks very intricate, nervous, and that reflects only the perturbation in Susanna’s heart caused by the Elders. No decoration or ornament otherwise disturbs the hard vertical and horizontal directions and lines in the picture. Susanna sits against hard, cold stone with warm and soft flesh. She cannot escape the coldness of being taken for an object either. Artemisia Gentileschi painted all the more Susanna in fine, sweet and soft colours, with slight shades of pink on body and face. The Elders then are painted in hard red and deep green colours, contrasting as the dark powers of the picture. No background other wise confuses the theme: Gentileschi concentrated on the psychology of the scene, on the figures, like she had seen from Caravaggio in Rome, and she painted in full realism of the figures, bringing the personages extremely close to the viewer.

Artemisia Gentileschi was born in Rome in 1593. Her father was a painter too, and a very good one: Orazio Gentileschi. She painted ‘Susanna and the Elders’ when she was barely seventeen and the painting is one of her very first pictures, at least one of the first that have remained of her hand. She was already caught then and harassed or even assaulted sexually by the painter with which her father worked, Agostino Tassi, and in whose studio she studied. Tassi apparently had raped her but promised marriage and Artemisia would stay with him and be his mistress for a while, until her father accused Tassi. There was a trial during which Artemisia was tortured with thumbscrews, for a woman could not be but a temptress and have seduced the man. Tassi accused her of having been a whore, having had intercourse with other men and even with her father. But confronted with witnesses, Tassi finally confessed and was imprisoned. The painting caused a sensation by its power of expression, even though few knew the poignant story behind the painting. Artemisia Gentileschi would marry another Florentine painter during the trial, but she would leave also this man and travel, living from her art, to various cities of Italy and even England. Few painters have come to power of expression as this female painter, yet she still has not gained the recognition of being a formidable genius such as other, male painters have received.

Other paintings:

Daniel and Habakkuk

When Cyrus was King of Babylon, he offered every day much food to the god Bel in his temple. Cyrus was convinced that Bel was a living god for everyday the food disappeared, eaten by the god. Cyrus asked Daniel why he also did not offer to Bel. Daniel replied that he only worshipped a living God and not a statue made by human hands. This made the king angry. He proposed to bring food to Bel and to seal the door. Daniel would see for himself that the food disappeared, eaten by Bel. Daniel and the king did so, but Daniel spread ashes all over the temple floor. Daniel and the king sealed the door after them. In the night, the priests came through a secret door in the temple and ate with their wives and children from all the food. In the morning, the king opened the doors, gave a quick look and saw with satisfaction that the food had gone behind the sealed doors. But Daniel pointed to the ashes, in which the king could not but notice the imprints of the feet of men, women and children. Cyrus angrily ordered the priests to be arrested. The priests showed the secret door under the altar table. The king put the priests to death and gave the statue of Bel to Daniel, who destroyed the idol and its temple.

The Babylonians also worshipped a great dragon. Cyrus said to Daniel that now even he had to recognise that this was a living god, no statues of bronze as Bel had been. Daniel merely replied that he would kill the dragon without a sword and thus prove that the dragon was not a god. The king gave Daniel his permission to try. So Daniel took pitch, fat and hair, boiled that together into balls and fed the balls to the dragon. The animal ate the balls, burst and died.

The Babylonians were so angry about this, that they against the king and forced him to hand Daniel over to them. They threw Daniel in the lions’ den, into which were seven hungry lions. Daniel stayed in the pit for six days.

The Prophet Habakkuk was in Judaea then. An Angel of God appeared to him, told him to get food to Babylon and give Daniel to eat. But Habakkuk had never been to Babylon and he told Babylon was far away. So the angel took the Prophet by the hair and brought Habakkuk near to the pit into which Daniel had been thrown. Habakkuk gave the food to Daniel, who was much comforted at the knowledge that Yahweh had not forgotten him. The Angel brought Habakkuk back to Judaea.

When the king saw the next day that Daniel was still alive, he praised the God of Daniel and released him from the lion’s den. The Babylonians that had schemed against Daniel were in their turn thrown in the lions’ pit and they were immediately devoured by the hungry animals.

Daniel and King Cyrus before the Statue of Bel

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606-1669). The J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles. 1633.

Rembrandt Harmensz. Van Rijn painted ‘Daniel and Cyrus before the Statue of Bel’ in 1633. Rembrandt, born in Leyden in 1606, lived in Amsterdam then. He had worked in Amsterdam before, but only for a brief time, while he studied in the workshop of the history painter Pieter Lastman, in the beginning of the 1620’s. In 1628 he had met Constantijn Huyghens, the secretary of the Prince of the Netherlands and through him Rembrandt had access to the court and its commissioners. Orders for paintings had arrived abundantly. Encouraged by this success, Rembrandt installed in Amsterdam, living in the house of his art dealer Uylenburgh. In 1634 Rembrandt would marry the niece of this art dealer, Saskia van Uylenburgh. In 1633 he was a well known artist already. He had started a workshop of his own in Amsterdam and he had many students. He painted very many pictures and the rapidity with which he worked can also be observed in his ‘Daniel and Cyrus’. Rembrandt had also begun to find his own style: scenes set against dark backgrounds, of Biblical themes, and in which the moment was caught in the depiction of his figures.

The centre of the painting is formed by the King. He stands, dressed in heavy robes and cloak, which glimmer with gold. He shows with his sceptre the altar of Bel and the offerings brought there: the food on a platter and the beaker of wine. The table cloth is of brocaded red cloth, and here also the gold lining show lavishly. Behind the table is the statue of Bel, enormous and massive but Rembrandt showed it only in half, and hid it almost completely in darkness. Rembrandt would want to have been accused of showing pagan gods. Daniel bends before the King. He is a divine Prophet, but he is abject before the powerful King, small, whispering the poisonous words into the King’s ear, which will make Cyrus doubt his god. For Cyrus hears with surprise that Daniel tells him that stone statues do not eat, something he would not have doubted a second.

The King is majestic and towering before Daniel, imposing in his full regalia of the monarch of the east. Rembrandt gave Cyrus a high turban and even a gold crown, and the King wears golden dresses, a golden sceptre. Yet, this imposing King is puzzled by the dwarf’s, Daniel’s words. He shows his incredulity to Daniel. The empty bowls and cup are on the table and Cyrus points at them, responding to Daniel and entreating him not to doubt. He seems in that instant to tell to the young Prophet that what Daniel claims cannot be true. Bel looms on the right side. Rembrandt showed the instant, the true moment when Daniel astonishes the King and when doubt enters the mind of the monarch, and it is as in many pictures of those times, that Rembrandt promises the action: the King points at the table, turns his face in sudden surprise, and Daniel humbly holds his hands to his heart, in a gesture of protection but also of asserting that yes, what he, Daniel, has just told, must be the only truth. The psychology of the figures and the action are thus depicted instantaneously with very little means, one of the wonders of the art of painting that Rembrandt had discovered early on in his career and for which he was famous.

Rembrandt painted a scene inside a dark hall. He built a composition around the left diagonal, because the main direction goes from the face of Daniel to the King and then to the chandelier that hangs down the ceiling. This line would go to Bel’s head, but Rembrandt did not show the heathen god and the main line of the picture thus ends at the candles, not on the statue. The light of the chandelier is shown splendidly. It is thrown on Cyrus, whose golden hues shimmer in the light and thus catches the attention of the viewer in all his magnificence. The light then continues more feebly onto the face of Daniel, but Rembrandt did not detail the features of the Prophet. The power of God and of the heavenly light is with Cyrus, and not with the indistinct Daniel. Yet, the King is the fool and Daniel holds the truth, the intelligence, the wisdom, presence of mind and also the divine power of prophecy. It is with such conflicts in depiction and narrative, and in psychology, that Rembrandt van Rijn captured the attention of the viewer. The viewer is puzzled at the apparent submissiveness of Daniel, who should really tower in this painting with his spiritual authority, and dominate the King. Cyrus towers over Daniel, so the viewer ponders and is caught in the act of comprehending the situation. That means the viewer will look longer at the painting, the effect desired by the artist.

The line of light follows the left diagonal but Cyrus diverts the light. He points with his sceptre to the table and here also the light comes profusely. Rembrandt worked with rapid brushstrokes on the table cloth, but therefore he made the viewer literally feel the texture of the brocaded, heavy red cloth. This cloth forms the balance in the painting with the King’s rich white and golden hues and the thin sceptre also links the two areas of brighter colours against ye darker background. The high, equally red and brown curtain continues to enforce then the elevating direction of Daniel and the King, and answers to the colours of the red table.

Rembrandt applied rapid, nervous brushstrokes also on the King, yet from a distance the details seem to fall into place and be discovered as the details of lining by the viewer. Rembrandt did not spend much time on the details in this painting, so that he could finish the work in not too long a time. Yet, the expression of the moment on Cyrus’ face, even if only shown in a few strokes, sufficed for the theme. The narrative was dens enough, the scene easily comprehensive for any viewer of the seventeenth century. Rembrandt had read his Bible with attention and chosen one of the crucial moments of the story. He painted several stories from the book of Daniel, among which two years later ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’. This later painting is more finely detailed than his ‘Daniel and Cyrus’ but Rembrandt remembered the image of ‘Daniel and Cyrus’ with the King painted in golden hues in the centre. In ‘Belshazzar’s feast’ he also gave the King these colours, a high turban and a golden crown, and a knot with feathers on the turban. He also put a headband of white pearls in the hair of the women at the table, as he did on Daniel in ‘Daniel and Cyrus’. So, either Rembrandt remembered well his earlier pictures, or he had ‘Daniel and Cyrus’ still with him, maybe not totally finished, or he had drawings, the sketches of ‘Daniel and Cyrus’, still in his possession.

‘Daniel and Cyrus before the Statue of Bel’ is a fine painting of Rembrandt but we sense the artist’s urgency at making this work. It may be a picture that Rembrandt made as a study for other work. It has however many of the excellent qualities of a true and glorious Rembrandt picture.

The Prophets Daniel and Habakkuk, an Angel and Saint Andrew

Paris Bordone (1500-1571). Casa Rezzonico. Egidio Martini Collection. Venice.

Paris Bordone was a Venetian painter, born at Treviso. He must have worked in titian’s studio and Bordone continued to work in Venice, but he was a restless man. He travelled to France at the invitation of King Francis I; he painted decorations in the Fugger Palace of Augsburg. He painted many religious pictures and he worked also on mythological themes, allegories and portraits. Bordone painted in the soft colours of Titian and Venice, and it was in his portraits that he excelled most.

In his picture of the ‘Prophets Daniel and Habakkuk, an Angel and Saint Andrew’, Paris Bordone shows a scene from the Book of Daniel. When Daniel was in the lion’s pit, an Angel of God took the Prophet Habakkuk by the hair and brought him from Judaea to Babylon, to feed Daniel. Paris Bordone painted the young man Daniel among the seven lions. The Angel is shown grabbing Habakkuk at the hair indeed, and Habakkuk brings bread and wine to Daniel on God’s command. The Angel still flies, dragging Habakkuk with it. To the left side stands Saint Andrew with his cross, on which he was martyred like Jesus.

Paris Bordone painted in soft brown and ochre colours with a granular texture, in light paint that allows the texture of the canvas to remain visible. His colours are very warm: soft reds and oranges overall and especially in the right part of the scene, which contrast nicely with the bright red and green on the left. Bordone painted Daniel with an orange cloak and also the Angel is dressed in orange, a nice symmetry – whereas Daniel is drawn vertically, the Angel and Habakkuk horizontally. Habakkuk is between the Angel and Daniel his robe is of the colour red, the colour that matches the cloak of Saint Andrew. Thus Bordone varied his hues in a symmetrical and yet contrasting manner. The most marvellous aspects of the painting are the colours on Saint Andrew. His green robe contains a splendour of green and yellow hues, which are painted in a chiaroscuro that builds Andrew’s body. Look at how, using variations of green and yellow colours only, Bordone sculpted the illusion of the volume and contours of Andrew’s left knee.

All Bordone’s figures hold their arms in another way. Daniel accepts the bread and wine; Habakkuk offers the plate and holds the cup. The Angel holds Habakkuk at the hairs, as told in the Bible, but also grabs the Prophet’s robe. Saint Andrew holds the cross behind his back in a graceful gesture, which allows his body turning in part and which balances the three figures on the right. Paris Bordone painted no background but for the lions, preceding in this aspect other painters of the later Baroque era. He showed Daniel among the lions, but the lions are calm and do not hurt the Prophet. Paris Bordone even painted naively the lions down beneath licking Daniel’s both legs. The commissioners of the painting probably asked Bordone to make a picture that could be shown to the faithful, and impress the naïve souls that came to pray before the picture.

The ‘Prophets Daniel and Habakkuk with Saint Andrew and an Angel’ was an altarpiece. Paris Bordone remembered from the bible the presentation to Daniel, the young man in distress, of the food. God called Habakkuk from far to rescue Daniel and bring him the divine food. Paris Bordone used this Old Testament scene to show Habakkuk bringing the bread and wine of Holy Mass to Daniel. The wine and bread are symbols not just of earthly succour but also of spiritual solace. The wine and bread of the sacrament was the representation of Christ and that wine and bread would save the soul and be the hope at help in distress. All they eyes of the figures focus on the bread and on the cup of wine, so that these symbols of Christ are the true centre of meaning of the painting. Thus Paris Bordone combined a scene from the Old Testament with the Patron Saint of the church in a surprising, original idea that referred to Christ’s Passion. The altarpiece was originally made for the Dolfin family altar in the church of Santa Marina in Venice I23 .

The ‘Prophets Daniel and Habakkuk with Saint Andrew and an Angel’ is a picture of a fine theme and a nice finding of an original reference. The picture proves the intelligence of the painter. Bordone painted in the marvellous soft, rather brown, subdued hues that Titian and Tintoretto had brought to the Venetians. In the painting we recognise Bordone’s skills at colouring and sculpting volumes of bodies in chiaroscuro, as well as his talent for drawing and painting the faces of the Saint, the Prophets and the Angel. Paris Bordone could paint in detail. He must have had his real joy however in the original idea of the painting. The painting is of fine quality, without great power but nicely made, very effective in the communication of its message, so that Bordone’s commissioners – the Dolfin family of Venice – must have been satisfied at having received among so many pictures a new view in an allegorical scene. Yet, this was but one of very many religious scenes that Bordone made and its lack of background also meant that the artist did not spend time lovingly and caringly on this picture, as he did with so many portraits. This was an altarpiece that would stand high above the altar and that was not intended to be a painting of great art but just a picture with a religious message.

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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