Susanna and the Old Men
Gerrit van Honthorst (also known as Gherardo delle Notti ) (1592, Utrecht (Netherlands)-1656, Utrecht (Netherlands))
Oil on canvas
h: 157 cm; w: 213 cm
Marcantonio IV Borghese Collection (?)
The painting, signed and dated, was acquired by Marcantonio IV Borghese in 1783 along with other works of the Flemish school. No details are known about the commissioning of the canvas, which, like the Rubens' example (inv.277), handles a subject common to painting of the Counter-Reformation. The account is taken from the Old Testament, specifically the Book of the Prophet Daniel (13, 1–64), and illustrates well the defeat of deception, expressed by the two old men – shown with lustful eyes and faces – and the victory of truth, represented by the naked Susanna.
Van Honthorst, known in Italy as Gherardo delle Notti, manages to transmit the feelings of surprise, indignation and shame in the Biblical heroine by the fountain, through her open mouth and terrified look. The study of mood is related to experimentation of Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Guido Reni, who rendered it first in marble and then on canvas.
Although the composition follows a diagonal arrangement, possibly inspired by Emilian painting that he encountered on his long trip to Italy in the 1620s, the canvas belongs to the final productive phase of the artist. He was better known as a painter of “genre scenes” particularly renowned for the extraordinary lighting effects inspired by the Caravaggesque school of Bartolomeo Manfredi, which he frequented when in Rome. Despite connections to a secular theme and culture, van Honthorst, the leader of the Dutch Caravaggists, captures the instrument of Divine Will in the figure of Susanna, who is entirely surrounded by light, and who triumphs only after suffering cruel injustices.
The subject is connected to the representation of the emotions according to the experimentation of Bernini and Reni among others. The theme of the painting relates to the concept of deception being defeated by divine truth.
The Borghese Collection was acquired by the Italian State in 1902.
Della Pergola, P., Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Rome, 1959, n.239, pp. 165–166.
Herrmann Fiore, K., Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un Museo che non ha più segreti, Rome, 2006, p.15.
Copyright image: Archivio fotografico Soprintendenza Speciale PSAE e Polo Museale della Città di Roma.
Sofia Barchiesi "Susanna and the Old Men" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=object;BAR;it;Mus11;42;en
Prepared by: Sofia BarchiesiSofia Barchiesi
TITLE: Author and Researcher
Sofia Barchiesi, a graduate and specialist in Art History and recipient of a scholarship from the School of Mediaeval and Modern Art History at Lumsa University, has been working with the Superintendency for Historical Artistic Heritage and the Museums of Rome since the late 1980s. She was responsible for cataloguing the art of the region and museums of Rome, studying the period of the Counter-Reformation particularly closely. She works with journals and writes essays, alternating her research and teaching work.
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: IT1 56