The Prophet Daniel: The Iconography
JULY 21
The Bible tells Daniel's story in the Book of Daniel. Perhaps the best known episode is that of his surviving a night in a den of lions. Thus a lion is his attribute, as at right. The Vulgate Daniel (14:27-38) has a second story of Daniel in the lions' den. This time he is in for six days, and an angel arranges for food to be brought to him by the prophet Habakkuk (image).

Part of Daniel's story takes place in Babylon, which according to Duchet-Suchaux (113) accounts for the Phrygian cap that one sees on his portraits sometimes (example).

Daniel's sojourn in the lions' den is a particularly popular subject in the sarcophagi of the 4th century. The images of the episode always have him standing nude in orant position with two lions. Jensen ("Nudity," 313-17) relates his nudity to the Roman practice of sending victims into the arena undressed as a way of humiliating them. Usually the lions sit on either side of Daniel and face him (example), but one sarcophagus has them seated more naturalistically.

In these images we often see Habakkuk with a small basket of bread (example). In the Vulgate passage an angel has carried Habakkuk and the food to Babylon; some sarcophagi include a second figure who could be an angel, though he has no wings or other indications of such status (example). In one unusual example it is a child who brings the bread to Daniel while two other men stand by approvingly. In another, the prophet is flanked by two men of identical appearance and it is difficult to tell who they are.

A manuscript in the collection of Basel University has a number of illustrations of the Book of Daniel, including the prophet's avoidance of the King's food, his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, and Balthazar's feast.

In all these images, and in the Bernini at right, Daniel is a beardless youth. But in what appears to be a figure of Daniel in one Croatian fresco he has a forked red beard.

Prepared in July, 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-10-22, 2016-10-24.

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Daniel, 1655 (See the description page)

DATES

  • The times narrated in the Book of Daniel were in the 6th century BC. According to the Catholic Study Bible the Book itself was written in the 2nd century BC.