Obelisk Art History

Susanna and the Elders

Artemisia Gentileschi, 1610
Susanna and the Elders, Artemisia Gentileschi
Susanna and the Elders, zoomed in
170 cmSusanna and the Elders scale comparison119 cm
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Susanna and the Elders is a Baroque Oil on Canvas Painting created by Artemisia Gentileschi in 1610. It lives at the Schloss Weißenstein in Germany. The image is in the Public Domain, and tagged Christian Stories. SourceDownload

A lifelong fight against sexual violence.

Artemisia Gentileschi’s first known work, Susanna and the Elders, re-tells chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel, a popular theme in Renaissance and Baroque painting. In the story, a Hebrew girl Susanna is spied on while bathing by lecherous elders. The creeps attempt to blackmail her for sex, and when she refuses she’s put on trial for their false claims. Susanna is eventually vindicated and the elders executed for their crime.

Sexual violence was already a theme for Gentileschi, and horrifyingly, a year after painting this scene, Gentileschi herself was raped by her tutor, Agostino Tassi. Tassi was put on trial for taking her virginity and refusing to marry her after ‘stealing her virtue’ and was sentenced to a year in prison he would never serve. Susanna eventually found justice, and Gentileschi did not. Her future work was dedicated to depicting justice against violent men in the most brutal fashion.

Reed Enger, "Susanna and the Elders," in Obelisk Art History, Published January 31, 2016; last modified November 08, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/artemisia-gentileschi/susanna-and-the-elders/.

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Artemisia, Recommended Reading

It's always hard to pick which book to read on a popular artist. Artemisia makes the choice a bit easier by compiling a wide range of essays covering Artemisia Gentileschi's life, technique, and most interestingly—many of her letters.

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