“Susanna and the elders” in Italian 16th-century art

Now Susanna was exceeding delicate, and beautiful to behold: the Book of Daniel (13:31) tells the story of this God-fearing woman, unfairly accused by two powerful and dishonest elderly judges of cheating on her husband with another man.

According to the Old Testament, Susanna was about to be sentenced to death for adultery when Daniel, a young man inspired by God, suddenly revealed the truth, exposing the two liars and telling everybody that they had molested and blackmailed the innocent woman. They had surprised her alone while she was bathing in her home’s garden, and threatened her to publicly accuse her of betraying her husband if she did not consent to their perverted passion. Susanna, loyal to her husband, had rebuffed the threats and screamed for help. Unable to subdue her, the terrible judges decided to take revenge. Only the young prophet Daniel could come to Susanna’s rescue, and make their plan backfire: in the end, the two elders were sentenced to death.

The biblical episode inspired artists since the very early years of Christianity, but was especially popular among European painters in the 16th and 17th centuries. Indeed, in those years there was a flourishing of renditions of the theme known as “Susanna and the Elders”.

Many Italians – from Paolo Veronese to Guido Reni, from Tintoretto to Artemisia Gentileschi, from Lorenzo Lotto to Ludovico Carracci – tried their talented hand at portraying the chaste Susanna, and the two wicked men as they spy on and approach her.

Here is a selection of these works from the 16th century.

Jacopo Bassano, "Susanna e i vecchioni", 1536, olio su tela, Museo Civico di Bassano del Grappa - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas

Jacopo Bassano, "Susanna and the Elders", 1536, oil on canvas, Museo Civico di Bassano del Grappa

Jacopo Bassano, "Susanna and the Elders", 1585, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux Arts, Nîmes

Alessandro Allori, "Susanna e i vecchioni", 1561, olio su tela, Musée Magnin, Digione - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas

Alessandro Allori, "Susanna and the Elders", 1561, oil on canvas, Musée Magnin, Digione

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna e i vecchioni", XVI secolo, olio su tela, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna and the Elders", 16th century, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna e i vecchioni", 1555 ca, olio su tela, Museo del Prado, Madrid - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna and the Elders", c. 1555, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna e i vecchioni", 1555 ca, olio su tela, Museo del Prado, Madrid, particolare - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas, detail

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna and the Elders", c. 1555, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, detail

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna e i vecchioni", 1557 ca, olio su tela, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna and the Elders", c. 1557, oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna e i vecchioni", 1557 ca, olio su tela, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, particolare - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas, detail

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna and the Elders", c. 1557, oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, detail

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna e i vecchioni", 1557 ca, olio su tela, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, particolare - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas, detail

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna and the Elders", c. 1557, oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, detail

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna al bagno", 1560 ca, olio su tela, Museo del Louvre, Parigi - "Susanna at Her Bath", oil on canvas, Paris

Jacopo Robusti, Tintoretto, "Susanna at Her Bath", c. 1560, oil on canvas, Museo del Louvre, Paris

Jacopo d'Antonio Negretti, Palma il Giovane, "Susanna e i vecchioni", XVI sec., olio su tela, Galleria dell'Accademia, Venezia - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas, Venice

Jacopo d'Antonio Negretti, Palma the Younger, "Susanna and the Elders", 16th century, oil on canvas, Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice

Paolo Veronese, "Susanna e i vecchioni", 1580, olio su tela, Museo del Prado, Madrid - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas

Paolo Veronese, "Susanna and the Elders", 1580, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Paolo Veronese, "Susanna e i vecchioni", 1580, olio su tela, Museo del Prado, Madrid, particolare - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas, detail

Paolo Veronese, "Susanna and the Elders", 1580, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, detail

Paolo Veronese, "Susanna e i vecchioni", olio su tela, 1580, Kunsthistorishes Museum, Vienna - "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas

Paolo Veronese, "Susanna and the Elders", oil on canvas, 1580, Kunsthistorishes Museum, Vienna

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