The Story of Daniel and the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace by Konstantinos Adrianoupolitis

Konstantinos Adrianoupolitis

The Story of Daniel and the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace, Second half of 18th century, Icon, 63 x 48 cm, "Benaki Museum of Greek Culture, Athens, ΓΕ 3034, © 2020 Benaki Museum, Athens

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In the Shelter of the Most High

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This eighteenth-century icon by Konstantinos Adrianoupolitis gives a highly detailed rendition of Daniel 3. In the left foreground we see an immense furnace, its flames soaring beyond the picture’s borders. Inside are the three young Hebrews, identical, with their arms extended in thanksgiving and prayer—figures of undaunted piety. Close behind them is an angel embracing them with his protective wings; in front of them, overcome within an overflow of fire, are the Babylonian servants who consigned the Hebrews to the flames.

To the right of centre is the golden statue erected by the emperor; at the lower right Nebuchadnezzar is juxtaposed with his idol and flanked by courtiers in sumptuous garments and headgear. Crowds of men meant to represent ‘all the peoples’ focus their gaze intensely on the idol, which is serenaded by an orchestra of horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, ‘and every kind of music’ (Daniel 3:7). While the multitude turns from all directions to worship the golden statue, Nebuchadnezzar is fixated on the men within the blazing furnace. They look directly at the viewer with the same serene smile we see on the angel’s face.

Konstantinos Adrianoupolitis might well have left it at that; instead, he gives us an abundance of detail beyond what is offered by the Scriptures. City dwellers jam the ramparts to take in the spectacle below them. Painterly images of the ‘works of the Lord’ (Song of the Three Jews 35; Daniel 3:57 LXX), mountains and a river, limn the horizon. A figure in monastic garb—presumably the icon’s donor—kneels in front of the emperor so as to look beyond him, to venerate the faithful Hebrews in the furnace.

The painter also places Daniel 3 within a wider narrative. In the distance at the upper right of the composition, we see the prophet Daniel called to vision by an angel; below, he is shown in the lion’s den, its ravenous beasts smiling broadly at the holy man who crosses his hands in prayer. Beneath that vignette and to the right, we see the three young Hebrews studying a scroll of Scripture and surrounded by stringed instruments of praise. It is as if they are preparing for the Benedicite that they will later sing in the furnace: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever’ (Song of the Three Jews 67; Daniel 3:89 LXX). A fragment of that Song is inscribed in the upper border of the icon, calling the viewer to thanksgiving as well.

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