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Jacopo Tintoretto - Susanna in the Bath

by Alexandra Tuschka

The episode of "Susanna in the bath" is found in the apocryphal text Daniel. Although it is thus not part of the official Bible, the theme enjoyed great popularity during the Renaissance. Susanna, who is observed bathing by two old men, does not notice them. The two old men approach her and threaten to blacken her if she does not join them. Susanna is God-fearing and faithful to her husband and refuses.

Preferably, the artists chose two dramaturgically relevant moments - the ogling of the old men and the attack itself. The Italian painter Tintoretto opted for a scene full of intimacy and little dynamism. Tintoretto moved away from the predominantly narrative attitude of his predecessors and made the toilet of a young, beautiful woman the main subject of the work; the two old people in the background ensure the recognizability of the motif and increase its erotic content.

Susanna sits in the right edge of the picture in front of a mirror and looks at herself. The young woman is brightly lit and large in the right part of the picture; one leg still protrudes into the water - a motif that alludes to female sexuality and should be copied by many artists in the future.

The mirror leans against a hedge overgrown with roses, which provides a screened, protected place for the bather and also evokes a rapid pull into the depths. At the end of the hedge, one of the judges can be seen, the other in the left foreground of the picture. He is lying on the ground and, peering around the barrier, tries to catch a glimpse of the young woman. The two men are wearing red clothes and long beards. In addition, their white hair is already thinning at the top of their heads.

There is, however, a third furtive observer - the pair of eyes of the viewer also joins the lechers in the picture. The latter's position in front of the canvas additionally denies Susanna the possibility of escaping to the front. But she looks at herself devoutly in the mirror; certainly she has not yet noticed the intruders. We, too, can calmly examine the young lady in all her beauty. Without effort, we have the better view of the woman's body and yet do not have to fear having to make the same sacrifice for our eye lust as the old woman.

The play with the role of the viewer is reinforced by Susanna's autovoyeurism. With this depiction, she departs from her traditional role as a pious and prudish wife and instead displays her vanity and sexuality. Furthermore, Tintoretto placed animal symbolism in the painting, replacing classical narrative moments: the stag in the left background stands for lust, the ducks symbolize marital fidelity, and the magpie located above Susanna suggests the imminent slander.

Jacopo Tintoretto - Susanna in the Bath

Oil on canvas, 1555/56, 146 × 193.6 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna


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