Rendered at close to life-size, Rubens’ lions are the product of careful observation and sketches of live specimens made at the royal menagerie in Brussels, and well as his studies of ancient sculpture seen in Italy. With consummate realism, he describes their anatomy, the texture of their fur, their range of gesture, movement and expression. They nap, snarl, and peer out from the canvas, creating the impression that we share their space.
In his representation of the Old Testament story, Rubens chose the moment the rock is lifted from the den. Daniel, having been entombed with the lions for praying to the Christian God, has been found miraculously unharmed. One of the leading painters of the Counter-Reformation, Rubens sought to reassure Catholics who felt likewise threatened and isolated by the rising tide of Protestantism.