Susanna and the Elders

Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos (attributed)

Susanna and the Elders by Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y CeballosColonial Museum

Susanna bathing is an episode contained in a book of the Greek version of the Old Testament: The Book of Daniel.

Susanna, wife of a wealthy Jewish merchant called Joachim, appears seated on a red cloak on the left side of the composition. A white mantle covers her thighs and hips; the rest of her body is naked. 

Pearl bracelets, alluding to her husband’s wealth, adorn her wrists.

In the lower part of the painting, and complementing the work, there is an inscription in white paint: “S.A SUSANA”, which translates: “Saint Susanna”. This confirms the woman’s identity.

Next to the inscription, leaning on the edge of a fountain, there is a comb, a symbol that usually alludes to the vanity of the person portrayed. The fact that this object appears far from Susanna suggests that she has not this vice.

A naked boy carved in stone holds the basin of a fountain located in front of the woman. The presence of this sculpture together with the female nude emphasizes the eroticism of the image. The garden is seen here as a place of desire and passion.

In the background, two elderly men, hidden behind the trees, secretly observe Susanna. According to the biblical account, both men demand that the woman “give herself” to them. She resists. 

In revenge, the old men accuse her of adultery and get her sentenced to death. At this moment the prophet Daniel intervenes and demonstrates Susanna’s innocence.

Susanna’s story was considered by early Christianity as an example of chastity because, in it, the woman rejected the elders so as not to sin before God.

The story also emphasizes Susanna’s trust in God, because knowing that she lacks elements for her defense, she decides to trust Him as her savior.

With the Renaissance, this scene became popular. Great European artists such as Rubens or Rembrandt represented it, without being censored by the Church due to the prominence of the female nude.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653), Italian painter, also represented the scene. She does not portray the female nude eroticism, nor does she idealizes rape, as can be seen in other paintings. There, she shows the pain of being violated, experience that she lived herself. 

This type of image was common in the traditions of northern Italy and Flanders, especially in engravings. However, in colonial Latin America, this theme had little diffusion. The work of the Museum is part, then, of the few copies made around this episode.

In addition to the rich decoration of the frame, this work stands out for its format, since it is a small and octagonal piece, unusual in the art of New Granada. These characteristics suggest that the painting could have been made as a commission.

Credits: Story

Museum Director
María Constanza Toquica Clavijo


Manuel Amaya Quintero
Anamaría Torres Rodríguez
María Isabel Téllez Colmenares
Collection Management
Paula Ximena Guzmán López
Tanit Barragán Montilla
Andrea Valentina Bastidas Cano

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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