Susanna at her Bath

1850, Francesco Hayez

On loan from a private collection, © Private collection. Used by permission
Hayez was the leading artist of mid-19th-century Milan, renowned for his great historical paintings, political allegories and exceptionally fine portraits. This painting of 'Susannah at her Bath' combines two of his favourite subject matters: an Old Testament story and a voluptuous female nude.

The story comes from the Apocryphal Book of Daniel (Chapter 13). As the virtuous Susannah bathes in her garden, she is approached by two corrupt elders who, lusting after her, threaten to accuse her of adultery if she does not give into them. She refuses and is falsely accused by them, but her innocence is proved, preventing her from being stoned.

Unlike Ludovico Carracci's representation of the story in 'Susannah and the Elders' Hayez does not include the figures of the old men watching Susannah. Their presence is nonetheless palpable: startled by prying eyes, Susannah looks back, as if confronting the voyeuristic viewer with an accusing glance.

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