Susanna and the elders
- The story of Susanna and the elders stems from the Apocrypha. Susanna was the wife of a wealthy Jew from Babylon. One day, as she was taking a bath in her garden, two elderly men who lusted after her surprised her and forced her to submit to their sexual advances. As she rejected them, they accused her of having committed adultery for which the penalty was death. At the trial, Daniel separated the elders and exposed the contradictions of their testimony, clearing Susanna's reputation. The story had been a favored subject in art since the Early Christian era when it appeared in Roman catacombs, with Daniel's restoration of Susanna's reputation as the scene usually depicted. In the Renaissance, artists transformed the religious theme of vindication into an erotic, voyeuristic scene. In these works, Susanna is shown bathing in the nude and the two elders hide behind bushes to watch her. Examples of this type are Tintoretto's version of c. 1555-1556 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), Ludovico Carracci's of 1616 (London, National Gallery), and Anthony van Dyck's of 1621-1622 (Munich, Altepinakothek). Artemisia Gentileschi's version of c. 1610 (Pommersfelden, Graf von Schoenborn Collection) still shows the nude female, but now harassed by the men. Albrecht Altdorfer (1526; Munich, Alte Pinakothek) saw the theme as an opportunity to demonstrate his skills in rendering the landscape. His fully clothed Susanna is being watched by the elders as her feet are washed—the scene a mere incidental event unfolding in the vast idyllic setting. The transgression does not go unpunished as on the right the men are stoned to death.
Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. Lilian H. Zirpolo. 2008.
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