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120 Main Street, Upton MA 01568-6193; 800-809-3343; email: sptwd@verizon.netUpdated 11-7-09

Last updated: 2-5-11
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Images of Women in Old Maaster Prints and Drawings: The Story of Susanna I

Susanna I / Susanna II
Biblical Subjects / Mythological Subjects / Allegorical Subjects / Historical Subjects

Adam and Eve / Noah / Lot and his Daughters / Joseph / Samson / Jephthah and his Daughter
David / Judith / Esther / Susanna and the Elders
De Vos Old Testament Women 1 / De Vos Old Testament Women 2 / De Vos New Testament Women
The Virgin Mary / Mary Magdalen / The Woman taken in adultery / The Crucifixion / The Lamentation / The Resurrection
The story of Susanna is told in the Apocryphal Book of Daniel and Susanna. Susanna, brought up by religious parents who taught her the law of Moses, married Joakim, a very rich man of Babylon at whose house the elders of the Jews met and where they held their trials. Joakin had a walled garden at this house and it was to this garden that his beautiful wife would resort when the elders came. The incident that follows shows the truth of the Lord's saying, "Wickedness came forth from Babylon, from the elders who were judges and who were supposed to govern the people" (1:5-6). Two of the judges became obsessed with Susanna because of her beauty and lusted after her. Although each was too ashamed to tell the other of his feelings, one day, after each left Joakim's house they each sneaked back to spy on Susanna and discovered their mutual lust. Resolving to seek an opportunate time, they kept a close eye on Susanna and waited for a chance to catch her alone. One very hot day, Susanna and her two maids went into the garden and Susanna decided to take a bath. She sent her two maids out for soap and olive oil and bade them to lock the gates until their return. The two elders, who were already inside the garden, ran up and demanded that Susanna yield to them: "'If you refuse, we shall give evidence against you that there was a young man with you and that was why you sent your maids away.' Susanna groaned and said, 'I see no way out. If I do this thing the penalty is death; if I do not, you will have me at your mercy. My choice is made: I will not do it. It is better to be at your mercy than to sin against the Lord'" (1:21-23). The elders promptly shouted down her cries for help and accused her, shocking everyone, for her reputation was spotless. The two elders proclaimed their story and demanded her death. Susanna "looked up to heaven through her tears, for she trusted in the Lord." The people believed the judges and assented to her death, but as she was being led away, affirming her innocence and appealing to God, "who dost know all secrets and forsee all things, thou knowest that their evidence was false" (I: 42-43), the young Daniel is inspired by the Lord to come to Susanna's aid. The rest of the elders accept his authority, seeing that "God has given you the standing of an elder" (I: 50), and Daniel proceeds to have the elders separated and questions them about the details of their story. When they disagree, he proclaims their crime and the people turn upon them, "for out of their own mouths Daniel had convicted them of giving false evidence" (I: 61) and they are stoned to death according to the law of Moses.

Besides giving artists a chance to show a beautiful woman without any clothes on, the story also gives artists a chance to show the faith of Susanna and her trust that God will save her, the depravity of those who wold use the law for their own personal profit, and perhaps also to draw a comparison between Susanna and Lucrece who, in a similar situation, did not resist in the face of Tarquin's threat to kill her and a servant and tell everyone that she was taken in the act of adultery, leaving no one alive to tell her story and prevent her reputation and that of her husband from being stained. By following the biblical text and showing Susanna naked, artists might also be inviting viewers to see that like the two corrupt judges, who made Susanna unveil herself at her trial "so that they might feast their eyes upon her beauty" (I: 32), they too were not immune from this hunger. Matham's contemporary setting may also suggest that the story is still current in his own time.

We present a drawing by Bernaert van Orley, and engravings by the northern masters Georg Pencz, Philips Galle (after Maarten van Heemskerck), Hans I Collaert (after Maarten van Heemskerck and after Maerten de Vos), Theodore Galle (after Maerten de Vos), and works by two of Hendrick Goltzius's followers, Jacob Matham (his step-son) and Jan Saenredam, and by Jean Cousin the Younger.
Bernaert van Orley, Susannah and the elders. Pen and sepia ink drawing on laid paper without a watermark, c. 1530. Bernaert van Orley wwnt to Rom during the brief reign of the Netherlandish Pope, Adrien VI. After the Pope's speed death, he returned to the Low COuntries and worked closely with the tapestry makers designing tapestries for royal palaces and churches. Image size: 115x82mm. Price: $12,500 (shown without the decorated mount).

This is life-size on my iMac 27 monitor.
Georg Pencz (German, 1500-1550), Susanna and the Elders (Bartsch 21). Original engraving, c. 1532. A good impression on laid paper trimmed on or within the platemark; ink spot top right. Signed in the plate with the monogram on the facing edge of the fountain and titled. Image size: 46x74mm. Price: $1575.

This is life-size on my iMac 27 monitor.
Philips Galle (Antwerp, 1537-1612), The Elders Try to Seduce Susanna (New Holl. 87 i/ii, TIB 56. 021.1). Engraving after Maarten van Heemskerck, 1563. Plate 1 from a set of The Story of Susanna consisting of six engravings published by Hieronymous Cock at The Sign of the Four Winds. Very good impression on laid paper with a watermark of a dolphin (Briquet 5845: Bruges, 1562) with wide margins. Plate 1 inscribed "MHeemskerck jnue / H. Cock ex. 1563"; this plate numbered "I" lower right. For discussion of the theme, see Eva/Ave: Images of Women in Renaissance Prints (National Gallery of Art, 1990). Image size: 206x251mm.
Philips Galle (Antwerp, 1537-1612), The Elders Accuse Susanna of Adultery (New Holl. 88 i/ii, TIB 56. 021.2). Engraving after Maarten van Heemskerck, 1563. Plate 2 from a set of The Story of Susanna consisting of six engravings published by Hieronymous Cock at The Sign of the Four Winds. Very good impression on laid paper with a watermark of a dolphin (Briquet 5845: Bruges, 1562) with wide margins. Plate 2 inscribed "MHem jn" and numbered "2" lower right. For discussion of the theme, see Eva/Ave: Images of Women in Renaissance Prints (National Gallery of Art, 1990). Image size: 206x251mm.
Philips Galle (Antwerp, 1537-1612), Dainel intervening on Susanna's part (New Holl. 89 i/ii, TIB 56. 021.3). Engraving after Maarten van Heemskerck, 1563. Plate 3 from a set of The Story of Susanna consisting of six engravings published by Hieronymous Cock at The Sign of the Four Winds. Very good impression on laid paper with a watermark of a dolphin (Briquet 5845: Bruges, 1562) with wide margins. Numbered "3" lower right. For discussion of the theme, see Eva/Ave: Images of Women in Renaissance Prints (National Gallery of Art, 1990). Image size: 204x244mm.
Philips Galle (Antwerp, 1537-1612), Daniel Cross-Examining The Elders (New Holl. 90 i/ii, TIB 56. 021.4). Engraving after Maarten van Heemskerck, 1563. Plate 4 from a set of The Story of Susanna consisting of six engravings published by Hieronymous Cock at The Sign of the Four Winds. Very good impression on laid paper with a watermark of a dolphin (Briquet 5845: Bruges, 1562) with wide margins. Inscribed "MHem jn / H. Cock ex" and numbered "4" lower right. For discussion of the theme, see Eva/Ave: Images of Women in Renaissance Prints (National Gallery of Art, 1990). Image size: 204x251mm.
Philips Galle (Antwerp, 1537-1612), The Stoning of the Elders (New Holl. 91 i/ii, TIB 56. 021.5). Engraving after Maarten van Heemskerck, 1563. Plate 5 from a set of The Story of Susanna consisting of six engravings published by Hieronymous Cock at The Sign of the Four Winds. Very good impression on laid paper with a watermark of a dolphin (Briquet 5845: Bruges, 1562) with wide margins. Plate 5 inscribed "MHem jn / H. Cocl excu" lower left, numbered "5" lower right just above the date "1563" in the text time beneath. For discussion of the theme, see Eva/Ave: Images of Women in Renaissance Prints (National Gallery of Art, 1990). Image size: 206x251mm.
Philips Galle (Antwerp, 1537-1612), Susannah and her relatives praise the Lord (New Holl. 92 i/ii, TIB 56. 021.6). Engraving after Maarten van Heemskerck, 1563. Plate 6 from a set of The Story of Susanna consisting of six engravings published by Hieronymous Cock at The Sign of the Four Winds. Very good impression on laid paper with a watermark of a dolphin (Briquet 5845: Bruges, 1562) with wide margins. Plate 6 inscribed "MHem jn" right of center and numbered "6" lower right. Small paper loses from wormholes between the windows in th uper story of the building above the fountain and just outside the platemark top right just touching the border. Several of the sheets of small wormholes in the left margins outside the plateamark. For discussion of the theme, see Eva/Ave: Images of Women in Renaissance Prints (National Gallery of Art, 1990). Image size: 205x246mm.
Philips Galle (Antwerp, 1537-1612), Susannah and her relatives praise the Lord (New Holl. 92 i/ii, TIB 56. 021.6). Engraving after Maarten van Heemskerck, 1563. Plate 6 from a set of The Story of Susanna consisting of six engravings published by Hieronymous Cock at The Sign of the Four Winds. Very good impression on laid paper trimmed on or within the platemark; very small repired tear upper right; small paper less upper right. Plate 6 inscribed "MHem jn" right of center and numbered "6" lower right. For discussion of the theme, see Eva/Ave: Images of Women in Renaissance Prints (National Gallery of Art, 1990). Image size: 200x243mm.

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