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Susanna and the Elders
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Susanna and the Elders by Artemisia Gentileschi is the equivalent of the modern-day leaked nude photo scandal!

Here's one way to transition from being a child star to being a fully-fledged adult celebrity 400 years before socialites discovered sex tapes. The painting tells the Biblical story (Daniel, Chapter 13) of a fair, young Hebrew wife falsely accused by two depraved dudes. After the beautiful Susanna sends her attendants away, she strips down to settle into a peaceful bath only to be secretly ogled by two lustful elders. Upon making her way back home, the two men accost the buxom bather and tell her that if she doesn’t have sex with them they will tell the whole village that she had snuck off to the garden to have sex with a young man.

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to think that Gentileschi may have been exorcising some of her own demons in this painting. She was, after all, raped by one of her famous father’s colleagues after which she had to endure a trial that had her submitting to a gynecological examination and tortured with thumbscrews to ensure the veracity of her claims. Seems like there could have been a more effective use for those thumbscrews, but now is probably a good time to digress.

In this painting we have the plotting of perverts and an attempt at persuading the young Susanna that it would be better to have sex with them under false pretenses than having to face their injurious lies in the court of law. Her revulsion at whatever salacious suggestion is slipping from the lips of her shameful suitors is obvious and she ultimately chooses to take her chances in court. This painting, the first to be signed (see inscription under Susanna’s leg) by Gentileschi, is one of 49 out of the 57 of her known works to portray women as protagonists or equal to men.

Thanks to the anatomical exactitude, next-level use of color, and the realism of Caravaggio (another pervert), it has been suggested that this painting was painted by her father, Orazio. Looking at the majority of her work, however, with its depictions of strong women often being victimized by creepy men, such suggestions have fallen by the wayside. For Gentileschi, this painting may have been the equivalent of a nip slip or the leaked photos of Miley Cyrus naked in a bathtub, but no matter. This painting marks the transition of Gentileschi stepping out from her father’s shadow and into the light of fame or infamy, whichever comes first.

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Here is what Trivium says about Susanna and the Elders

A lifelong fight against sexual violence.

Artemisia Gentileschi's first known work, Susanna and the Elders, re-tells chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel — a popular theme in Renaissance and Baroque painting. In the story, a Hebrew girl Susanna is spied on while bathing by lecherous elders. These creeps then attempt to blackmail her for sex, and when she refuses she's put on trial for their false claims. Susanna is eventially vindicated and the elders executed for their crime.

Sexual violence was already a theme for Gentileschi, and horrifyingly, just a year after painting this scene, Gentileschi herself was raped by her tutor, Agostino Tassi. Tassi would be put on trial for taking her viginity and for refusing to marry her after 'stealing her virtue' — he would be sentanced to a year in prison he would never serve. Susanna eventually found justice, and Gentileschi did not. Her future work would depict justice in the most brutal fashion. 

Learn more about Susanna and the Elders and other artists at Trivium Art History

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Susanna and the Elders (Artemisia Gentileschi, Pommersfelden)

Susanna and the Elders is a 1610 painting by the Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi. It currently hangs in the Schloss Weißenstein collection, in Pommersfelden, Germany. The work shows an uncomfortable Susanna with the two men lurking above her while she is in the bath. This was a popular scene to paint during the time of the Baroque period. This subject matter for this painting comes from the Book of Daniel.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Susanna and the Elders (Artemisia Gentileschi, Pommersfelden).