François de Nomé was a French artist who moved when very young to Italy, where he trained and worked. At the age of eleven he is documented in Rome where he studied with a Maestro Baldassare who has been tentatively identified as the Flemish painter Balthazar Lauwers. A recent series of studies has distinguished him from Didier Barra, an artist with whom he collaborated in Naples on the decoration of a series of altarpieces for the city, which were attributed to a painter named Monsù Desiderio. François de Nomé formulated a highly individual style that has echoes of the Mannerism of Giulio Romano, particularly his work for the Palazzo del Te in Mantua, as well as aspects of Paul Bril’s landscape paintings and more quirky elements derived from Hans Vredeman de Vries and Antonio Tempesta.
Art historians have separated the work of De Nomé, who produced views and scenes of cities, into two distinct types: one comprising compositions of invented, fantastical architecture used as settings for biblical narratives, and the other of street scenes and church interiors. The present oil on canvas, which is dated 1624 on a rock in the centre, is a work of the first type. De Nomé chose a celebrated episode from the life of Daniel, recounted in slightly different versions in the Old Testament and Old Testament Apocrypha, locating it in one of his typical settings that here represents the city of Babylon where the story took place. Daniel was thrown into a pit with seven lions on the order of King Cyrus, who had been turned against Daniel by his courtiers. According to the text, Daniel remained there for a week, during which time the animals were not fed with the intention that they would eat Daniel. However, an angel of the Lord brought the prophet Habakuk from Judah, where he lived, to Babylon, with the mission of aiding Daniel by bringing him food. This is the moment depicted by De Nomé, in which we see the principal figures almost lost within the immensity of the setting. Daniel is seated on the right on a huge slab, surrounded by four lions and raising his head towards the surprising and fantastical apparition of the angel lowering down Hababuk by his hair with the supplies that he has brought wrapped in a small bundle. The immense setting, in which the figures almost disappear, consists of the classical and Gothic ruins of a city decorated with a wealth of sculptures. Notable among them is an allegory of Abundance, identifiable from the cornucopia that the statue is holding. Constructed from a complex interplay of vertical and diagonal lines of the façades, ramps and bridges, the ruined city has a desolate air whose mood is emphasised by the artificial lighting and the monochromatic palette, applied with thickly charged brushstrokes in the most brightly lit areas.
The setting has been compared to the one in Jonah and the Wale in the Daninos collection in Florence, and A ruined City in the Menil collection, Houston. De Nomé also repeated the subject in a canvas in a private collection in Naples, but with different results and a different approach to the theme.