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Work Daniel in the lions' den

Department of Sculptures: France, Middle Ages

Daniel dans la fosse aux lions

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

Sculptures
France, Middle Ages

Author(s):
Jean-René Gaborit

This capital, characteristic of Romanesque sculpture, has certain antique elements (corner scrolls, central adornment) but is historiated. The seated figure of Daniel is perfectly adapted to the space; the lions' heads on either side accentuate the load-bearing function of the scrolls. The lions are freely interpreted from oriental models, and stylized in a highly decorative manner. Daniel's relatively naturalistic features contrast with the almost abstract graphic design of the drapery.

A Romanesque capital

This capital was a decorative element of the Church of St. Geneviève, which housed the relics of the patron saint of Paris. This church was constructed during the Romanesque Period (late 11th–early 12th century) on the site of the Merovingian Basilica des Saints Apôtres, founded by King Clovis and Queen Clotilde in the early 6th century. Moreover, the marble block from which the work was carved was a vestige of a capital that once belonged to this first sanctuary (some acanthus leaves which featured on the original capital are still visible on the back).
The Romanesque sculptor composed a symmetrical scene: the prophet Daniel, a resigned but serene expression on his youthful face, is seated between two lions who show him no hostility despite their fearsome appearance. The subject comes from the Old Testament; Daniel is presented as a model of absolute faith in divine protection, even in the face of the greatest adversity.

A sculptor from the south of France?

From a stylistic point of view, this work bears little relation to other 12th-century sculptures from the Ile-de-France region. The composition is very similar to that of a capital from the Sauve-Majeure abbey, near Bordeaux, and the lions resemble those featuring on capitals from Languedoc and Roussillon. This may suggest that the block of marble was carved by an artist from the south of France, who would have been more familiar with this material (imported six centuries previously from the marble quarries of the Pyrenees) than his Parisian colleagues.
This hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that the other capitals from the former Church of St. Geneviève, which are now in the Musée National du Moyen Age (Thermes de Cluny), are very different from this one. They are carved in stone, and feature a very rich iconography (scenes from Genesis, signs of the Zodiac), treated in a narrative style, with no particular concern for symmetry. Their small figures, rather squat animals, and decorative exuberance contrast with the rigorous simplicity of the Capital of Daniel.

The Church of St. Geneviève

The Church of St. Geneviève, which once stood on Rue Clovis, was demolished in 1807. Its tower was the Tour Clovis (which lies within the grounds of the Lycée Henry IV).

Technical description

  • Île-de-France (VIe et début du XIIe siècle)

    Daniel dans la fosse aux lions

    Provenant de l'ancienne église abbatiale Sainte-Geneviève de Paris

  • Marbre

    H. : 0,49 m. ; L. : 0,53 m. ; Pr. : 0,51 m.

  • Versement des chantiers de Saint-Denis, 1881 , 1881

    R.F. 457

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Porte d'Estagel
    Room 1

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