Susanna and the elders, Jacopo TINTORETTO; 1555 oil on canvas; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Web Gallery of Art


Suzanna and the elders

Understand the scene

What you can see in this picture……

Susanna is having a bath in a pond in the middle of a luxuriant garden enclosed by hedges.

Susanna is pretty, pure; her names means “daughter of the lilies”. She is in an enclosed garden, near a fountain, with a mirror. These are so many symbols of purity.

She believes she is alone since she has just sent her two maidservants to fetch some balms and perfumes, but this woman is spied on by two old men hidden in the shrubbery.

... and in other pictures

This scene opposes the candour of the “chaste” Susanna; this is her nickname; to the baseness of the two old men.

Two moments of the narrative are possible,
            either the old men are watching her but she cannot see them for they are well hidden,
            or the old men are already out of their hiding place and they surprise her while threatening her and even seizing her. Sometimes the maid servants are seen leaving the garden.

Surprised, she manifests her innocence by hiding her nakedness, while the old men are dark, ugly, libidinous and violent, sometimes close to ancient satyrs.





Do not confuse with



Bathsheba; Jacob van LOO; c.1650; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris

 In secula


The young woman taking her bath can be Bathsheba or Susanna.

In both cases two pretty women are at their baths. They are alone or with maid-servants but without being aware of it they are watched or spied on. Here this is Bathsheba watched by King David.

The nature of the observers changes the nature of this scene of voyeurism. When it is the young king David watching Bathsheba from his castle, the scene is one of seduction and budding love, one of a strong passion. But when they are two old men hiding behind a bush to spy on Susanna, the scene is one of libidinous lust, of the preparation of a probable rape.

(See the comment on Bathsheba).




The Toilet of Esther; Théodore CHASSERIAU; c. 1840 ; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris

Web Gallery of Art


There is a third bath:

that of Esther who prepares herself to meet King Ahasuerus, her husband, but, at her toilet, there is nobody except for her maid-servants to watch or spy on her.



Toilette de Venus

Venus Adorned by the Graces, Annibale CARRACCI; 1590-95; oil on panel transferred to canvas; National Gallery, Washington

 National Gallery Washington


Outside the Bible

The toilet of Venus is a classical mythological theme that is often represented. The presence of little Cupids allows the spectator to distinguish it from biblical scenes.



Diana at her Bath; François BOUCHER; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris.



The bath of Diana-Artemisis also a classical theme. The chaste goddess is bathing when she is surprised by the hunter Acteon and she orders her dogs to devour him.




The biblical narrative

Livre de Daniel chapitre 13(apocrypha)

The beautiful and pious Susanna is the wife of a person of distinction. Two old men, who are frequent visitors at the house, begin to desire the woman.
 "she went in as before with two maids only, and she was desirous to wash herself in the garden: for it was hot.
And there was nobody there save the two elders, that had hid themselves, and watched her."

Susanna dismisses her maid-servants; then they stand up and ask her to go to bed with them, otherwise "we will bear witness against you, that a young man was with you: and therefore you sent away your maids from you" (Daniel 13:15-21)

Susanna prefers to risk being stoned for adultery than sinning in front of God, and she calls for help.
The old men accuse her; everybody believes them and condemns Susanna.


But young Daniel, inspired by God, declares there has been a false testimony. He questions the old men separately; they contradict each other and it is they who are condemned to be stoned.


This narrative built like a play is meant to show the clear-sightedness of young Daniel, a Jew transported to the court of the sovereigns of Babylon during the Exile.

The moral of the narrative is also a radical criticism of what is most respected in society: justice and old age wisdom.

See similar pictures


Two compositions rejecting the old men far to the background, invisible to Susanna who has taken off her clothes.



Susanna; Paul RANSON; 1891; oil on canvas




Susanna at her Bath; Théodore CHASSERIAU; c. 1840; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris

 Académie Rouen



Two compositions make the old men’s threat quite real; the innocent Susanna conceals her nakedness.


Susanna in the Bath; Paolo VERONESE; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Web Gallery of Art


Chaste Susanna; Jacob JORDAENS; oil on canvas; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium.

in secula


This time, the old men are not only present but they also introduce into the garden the young man whose favours they will accuse Susanna to accept.


Susanna and the Elders; Lorenzo LOTTO; 1517; oil on wood; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence




Bathsheba and Susanna painted by the same artist

A great symmetry in the composition with a multiplication of characters that creates a movement: David’s messenger enters and Susanna’s maid-servants go out.

 (See the commentary on Bathsheba).


David and Bathsheba; Jan MASSYS; 1562; oil on wood; Musée du Louvre, Paris

Web Gallery of Art



Susanna and the Elders; Jan MASSYS; Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels

 In secula




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