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OLD MASTERS MURAL PAINTED BY JOANNA McKETHAN
The original painting of “Daniel in the Lions’ Den” executed by Sir Peter Paul Rubens in 1615 hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It is slightly under 8’ by 11’ in size, but looks twice that.
However, a copy of Daniel hangs in Art on Broad Atelier at 217 East Broad in Dunn, a division of j’Originals Art Studio, owned by artist Joanna McKethan. It is there because she has painted a copy of the master’s work, and she is adding finishing touches to the lions’ hairs, whiskers, and the highlights in the eyes before delivering the painting to its final destination. Like the original, the painted tapestry will be oil on canvas.
Noting the artist’s training in Old Masters’ techniques in Munich Germany, a local entrepreneur and professional who currently prefers to remain anonymous has commissioned McKethan to do the work, which will not be an exact copy due to the difference in dimensions. The painting has been done on a hanging canvas sized approximately 5’ x 8’. McKethan received in-depth Old Masters’ painting training in Munich, Germany, some thirty years ago from German master painter Bergheim, where students in the studio were required to paint two copies of a master painting, of which the teacher kept the best, “an excellent training in the discipline required to copy a Master painting,” says the artist.
The painting will hang in the patron’s house, or will possibly be resold.
‘Daniel in the Lions’ Den’ depicts a man surrounded by nine angry lions. A product of the Baroque period, the painting uses dark and light color shades. The technique of chiaroscuro sets a dramatic tone appropriate to Daniel’s scary situation. Chiaroscuro, a technique for creating reality with light and shadow, is evidenced in the strong contrasts widely used during the Baroque period.
Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640, Flemish, was the best known European artist of his day. He is now widely recognized as one of the top artists in Western art history.
The subject, Daniel, an Old Testament prophet and chief counselor to the Persian king Darius, aroused the envy of the other royal ministers. Conspiring against the young Hebrew, they forced the king into condemning Daniel to a den of lions and what they hoped would be instant death.
In the painting he is sitting, looking upwards at the light now streaming into the cave. Although his face is serious, his body is in repose; he is not hiding his eyes or bowed over in distress. The nine lions (or is it 10?) affect different poses–some asleep, some roaring and some just sitting.
The light streaming in illustrates that Darius, anxious about his friend on the following dawn, had the stone removed that sealed the entrance to discover Daniel had been miraculously saved. The artist made an accurate Scriptural rendering of the moment of Daniel’s delivery as he, the artist envisioned it. The king cries out to him, “Daniel, was your God able to deliver you?” The beasts squint and yawn at the morning light streaming into their lair, and Daniel gives thanks to his God.
The composition is crowded, without much place for the eye to rest. Most of the space is occupied by lions. Rubens used dark colors beside the white cloth upon which Daniel is sitting. Rubens’ colors are well-blended. Tense energy is depicted through Daniel’s facial expression. Daniel is the focal point of the painting, positioned under the light from the opening. This captures the spiritual and physical emphasis of the painting: that Daniel is God’s man, and Daniel will be delivered, a figure of Christ’s resurrection.
The monumental size places the ten lions close to the viewer, heightening the sense of immediacy and danger. Within the asymmetrical baroque design, Daniel is the focal point even though his position is off-center. Against the brown tones of animals and rocks, his pale flesh is accented by his red and white robes and by blue sky and green vines overhead.
According to the National Gallery, in 1618, Rubens traded Daniel along with eight other paintings and some cash for a collection of over a hundred ancient Roman busts and statues—the prize material of any art gallery in that era. During the transaction, Rubens described his own canvas as: “Daniel among many lions, taken from life. Original, entirely by my hand.” According to the National Gallery, The North African lions Rubens used as his models were kept in the royal menagerie at Brussels. The Gallery has a study of the lion in its collection facing the viewer, standing to Daniel’s right. This Moroccan species, now extinct in the wild, they say, may be seen at Washington’s National Zoo.
Like the original, the painted tapestry will be oil on canvas. Ms. McKethan spent months rearranging her studio to accommodate the 8’ X 8’ X 9’ easel upon which the tapestry hangs. The tapestry can be viewed through the wall of mirrors at the back of her studio, easily seen. Students have kept up with the progress which sharpens their eyes and memories, making them notice improvements each new lesson.
McKethan traveled to Washington, D.C. and sat with the painting for a full day’s sketching, photographing and absorbing the placement and movement of the lions, noting specifically the negative spaces that join four or five parts of objects together. “Although it is a work of antiquity, it is also an experimental work,” she adds, “and that, of course, increases the excitement of participating in the process.
Her teaching studio is based on principles of the Masters, bolstered by courses from master painters in the U.S. and abroad. “Since we don’t know exactly how the Masters achieved their results,” her German teacher would say, “we must learn visually how to achieve what they did, and the easiest way is to look through the eyes of the Impressionist painter.” Through painting samples designed to illustrate the point, he brought the students closer to their goal and proved his thesis.
Ms. McKethan has done work for this patron before.