Daniel in the Lions’Den; Merovingian period, marble capital;
Musée du Louvre, Paris

In secula

Daniel and the lions

To understand

 What you can see in this picture……

A man is in the middle of lions that do no harm to him; he is Daniel in the lions’ den.

His calm shows his confidence in God whose presence is sometimes marked by an angel.


Lions are beasts that, like eagles, express domination; they are dangerous for Samson and Daniel who must fight against them and call God to their help.



...and in other pictures

There are two representations corresponding to the two narratives:

According to the first narrative, Daniel is sitting or standing between two lions that are symmetrical around him. The picture of Daniel placed amidst lions takes up a Persian motif that is found on many materials. It evokes a solar God with two lions of fire. The king is sometimes on the edge of the pit and speaks to Daniel.

The second narrative changes the representation. This time Daniel is in the middle of several lions, normally seven, but he is above all busy receiving some food brought by a man who arrives through the air above him. He is the Prophet Habakkuk sent by God.


Not be confused with

Daniel in the Lions’Den; Merovingian period, marble capital; Musée du Louvre, Paris

Web Gallery of Art


Samson and the lion. The biblical hero who possesses a measureless strength confronts a single lion and he kills it by tearing it.

See Samson

The biblical narrative

  The Book of Daniel, chapters 6 and 14

Daniel is a Jew exiled in Babylon who has become the king’s counsellor. The ministers are jealous of him and they trap him by having any prayer not addressed to the king forbidden. Daniel prays his God and is thrown into the lions’ den. When the king learns it? he runs to the pit and calls Daniel who then answers :"My God has sent his angel, and has shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocence was found in me; and also before you, O king, have I done no hurt." (Daniel 6:22)

The king orders that Daniel be taken up out of the den.

 In chapter 14 in the Greek Bible, there is another version in which God send some food to Daniel through the intermediary of the prophet Habakkuk.



This narrative, that is full of imagery, is a sign of salvation; God saves the one who puts his faith in Him.

See similar pictures


Daniel is alone at the bottom of his pit; the number of lions tends to multiply.


Daniel in the Lions’ Den; Peter Paul RUBENS; 1620; oil on canvas; National Gallery of Art, Washington




Daniel in the Lions’ Den; Gustave DORÉ; 1865; engraving; from the “Sainte Bible”

Education Environnement


Daniel receives the visit of the king, astonished or meditative in front of the miracle


Daniel in the Lions’ Den; Matthias MERIAN the Elder; 1625-30; engraving; from “Icones Biblicae”




Daniel in the Lions’ Den; illustrator of the “Bible Historiale” by Petrus Comestor; Manuscript MMW 10 B 23; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.



Daniel and Habakkuk

In the Greek Bible, the story of Daniel in the den is told a second time.

And to the miracle of the lions is added that of the prophet Habakkuk who arrives through the air, guided by an angel who holds him by his hair. He brings water and bread to Daniel. The latter often has a meditative or praying attitude for he is the image of the soul threatened by death or by sin, hence the seven lions evoking the seven capital sins.



Daniel in the Lions’ Den of Babylon receives his Meal brought by Habakkuk; miniature; from the St Sever Beatus; manuscript lat. 8878; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.



The angel always holds Habakkuk by his hair but the den can take funny forms.


Habakkuk and Daniel; c. 1435; miniature; from the “Bible Historiale” of Utrecht




Daniel in the Lions’ Den of Babylon receives his Meal brought by Habakkuk; fragment of psalter; manuscript KB 76 F 5; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague




Further developments



Martyrs thrown to the lions


There is no link between this narrative of Daniel written in the 2nd century BC and the condemnations of Christians by the Romans in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD but it is quite evident that, for the martyrs thrown to wild beasts, this story was a great comfort; that is why its representation was very frequent in the cemeteries of the catacombs.

St Blandine Martyr;
anonymous; end of 19th century;




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