Henry Ossawa Tanner, Daniel in the Lions' Den, 1907–18, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

From the Collection: Daniel in the Lions' Den

January 4, 2017

Henry Ossawa Tanner became known for his quiet, subtle depictions of Biblical stories. Where his contemporaries and forbearers often created dramatic scenes of similar subject matters, Tanner’s work tells a different story.

Daniel in the Lions’ Den offers a quiet, contemplative moment in an otherwise terrifying scene. Daniel, a Jewish prophet persecuted for his faith, was sent to certain death in a den of wild lions. His captors discovered him alive and unharmed the next day. A shaft of light illuminates the center of the scene, but Daniel’s face is obscured. He and the lions are cloaked in a blue-green shadow. The focus, rather than on Daniel’s face, is drawn to his bound hands and the face of a docile lion, the only things illuminated in this work.

Tanner’s calm interpretation of the story of Daniel conveys a man of faith, secure in and protected by his belief, not one fervently praying in fear. The subtlety of the painting conveys Daniel’s humanity and his faith on the same level, showing him alone but accompanied by the almost heavenly beam of light.

Daniel in the Lions’ Den is currently on view on the third floor of the Art of the Americas building. Check out LACMA's collections online to learn more about this work