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Image of Daniel

Joseph Hirsch
American, 1910–1981



Object Type: Painting
Creation Place: North America, American, New York
38 in. x 45 in. (96.52 cm x 114.3 cm)
Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Accession Number: 1989.0002.0020

Credit Line: Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, The Blount Collection

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"Daniel" is a modern interpretation of Belshazzar’s Feast, a biblical story of judgment and retribution recounted in the Book of Daniel. In Hirsch’s version, the dissolute king wears a ruffled evening shirt and a blue smoking jacket. Golden goblets reference the spoils from the temple at Jerusalem and the king’s abuse of sacred objects for profane purposes. The courtesan sleeping next to the king symbolizes the licentiousness of his court.
The composition focuses on the distracted gaze of the king, as he hears Daniel’s prophetic warning and ponders its meaning. A just-extinguished candle dramatizes the immediacy of the moment, as the smoke, symbolic of destruction, rises toward the hand of the prophet, here literally the prophet of doom. Daniel’s authoritative countenance is juxtaposed with those of the bewildered king and the dozing courtesan. Because the courtesan sleeps, she, like the king, remains blind to her fate. Hirsch thus suggested that man’s doom rests in his lack of awareness. By placing the biblical story in a modern setting, Hirsch conveyed the timelessness of the message: evil will not go unpunished.

American Paintings from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, cat. no. 84, p. 200.

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