Susanna and the Elders

Susanna and the Elders is a painting by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, created in 1607. It is oil on canvas with 94 x 65 cm dimensions. You can find the artwork in the Room XVIII of the Borghese Gallery.


The painting is based on the story of Susanna, found in a deuterocanonical chapter of the biblical Book of Daniel.

The story of Susanna and the Elders, described in one of the books of the Prophets (Daniel 13:1-64), was regarded as a chance to portray female nudity, especially by the Venetian painters in the 16th century and the Carracci School. This was the first painting Rubens made on the subject of Susanna.


Rubens executed this painting during his stay in Rome in 1601-1602, and it entered the collection of the Borghese Gallery earlier than the artist’s other work in this room (no. 3). It was, in reality, mentioned by Giacomo Manilli in 1650, who rightly attributed it to Peter Paul Rubens.

There is a replica of this painting, dated to 1614, in the National Museum of Stockholm.


In the painting, illuminated from the right, the woman’s body emerges from the darkness just as she twists her body round to face the older men who have suddenly appeared behind her.

Susanna is a young married Jewish woman who lived in Babylon during the first exile of the Jewish people. These men, called the elders, spy on Susanna taking a bath, and are taken with her charms. Undoubtedly, they approach her. However, when she rejects their approaches, they accuse her of adultery. As it were by Daniel’s intervention is her death by stoning avoided.

In the portrait, Susanna has a white cloth draped over her. The white symbolizes her purity and goodness because she did not commit adultery, just like the elders are planning to accuse her of. However, her face implies that she is shocked that the elders observe her bathing. She also looks frightened since she does not know what the elders aim to do to her.

Borghese Gallery in Rome,
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Author: Sir Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was a Flemish artist. He is considered the most influential artist of the Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens's exceedingly charged compositions reference intellectual aspects of classical and Christian history. His unique and trendy Baroque style emphasized movement, color, and sensuality, taking after the immediate, dramatic artistic style advanced within the Counter-Reformation. Rubens specialized in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and historical depictions of mythological and allegorical subjects.

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