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Guido Reni, Susannah and the Elders

Key facts
Full title Susannah and the Elders
Artist Guido Reni
Artist dates 1575 - 1642
Series Two Biblical Scenes from Palazzo Lancellotti
Date made about 1622-3
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 116.6 × 150.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1844
Inventory number NG196
Location Room 32
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Susannah and the Elders
Guido Reni

An apocryphal addition to the Old Testament describes how two lecherous elders threatened to accuse Susannah, a beautiful young woman, of adultery – a crime punishable by death – if she did not give in to their desires. Guido Reni here illustrates the episode: one man grabs at Susannah’s robes and puts his fingers to his lips, commanding her silence, while the other raises a hand, ready to touch her. She grasps at her drapery, attempting to cover her breasts.

This painting hung in the Palazzo Lancellotti, Rome, in 1640, alongside Lot and his Daughters leaving Sodom, also now in the National Gallery’s collection. Given that the paintings are of a similar size, it was believed for some time that they were created as companion pieces. However, cleaning in 1984 revealed brushwork that suggests different dates for the works – Susannah and the Elders was painted later than Lot and his Daughters and the two were likely not originally intended as a pair.

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Two Biblical Scenes from Palazzo Lancellotti


Lot and his Daughters Leaving Sodom and Susannah and the Elders are two works by Guido Reni, both of which depict biblical scenes containing three figures. They are of similar size, and are painted in a horizontal format with dark backgrounds. The two were first recorded in the Palazzo Lancellotti, Rome, in 1640, where they hung together as companion pieces until they were respectively acquired by the National Gallery in 1844.

Upon their acquisition the works were considered to be a pair, given their similarly moralising subject matter, size, and location in the Palazzo Lancellotti. However, cleaning revealed brushwork that suggests the paintings were created in different periods of Reni’s career, and were not made to hang together.

Because the two Old Testament subjects illustrate feminine vice and virtue, the pairing would seem to be deliberate. It’s possible that Reni painted Susannah and the Elders to accompany his earlier work, but it’s similarly plausible that the pairing was made by a collector much later.