Susanna and the Elders On my trip to the Norton Simon Museum, a painting labeled Susanna and the Elders, Flemish women Jan Massys, really stood out to me. The specifications of this oil on canvas work of art are 42 x 77-1/2 in. (106. 7 x 196. 9 cm). The painting was made in 1564, during the Renaissance, and portrays an example of the religious tension of that time and reflects the era after the start of the Reformation. My first thought when gazing upon Susanna and the Elders bad things are about to happen; there is two old men hiding behind a planter box and appear to be conspiring an evil plot.
These men are dressed in red, which in this case, it must represent last that they are feeling toward Susanna. The focal point is Susanna looking as though she is getting ready for bed or perhaps to take a bath. Also, she is dressed in very nice cloths so appears to be of noble stature. I should also not that she is conntroposto in her posture and the way her cloths fall on to her body. To the right, there is two women that look as if they are trying to lure her to safety, away from the creepy men behind her. Perhaps they are her loyal servants.
This all appears to be taking place in a fancy garden which gives me the idea that she vulnerable in that she is secluded. The men must have planned ahead to sneak up on her out here rather than around other people furthering my suspicion of their cruel intentions. One last thing I noticed was the little statue in the bottom right corner; however, I can’t make much sense of it. I know it means something, but I just don’t get it. If you follow the lines of the stone benches they lead you to a point just beneath Susanna’s head which suggest the use of perspective.
The light source is coming from the top right of the painting and appears that it is shining directly on to Susana, almost making her this heavenly entity. I think this is a symbol that God will keep her safe from these men. It is a soft light that that allows the colors Massys chose to stand out and add to the chiaroscuro. Though the Chiroscuro is light, Massys makes decent use of it. Susana is lit up signifying that she is pure and innocent and the creepy guys behind the tree are in the shadows giving off the idea that they are evil with malicious intent.
The deep blood red that the two guys are wearing is symbolic of their lust for Susanna. Red, I believe, sex or passion whether it be good or bad. The gold that Susanna is wearing gives her some authority in the painting and also an angle like presence as gold represents the heavens. The colors seem very realistic and must closely portray what this actual place must have looks like. Everything in the painting looks as if it is overlapping and this adds to the drama. Also, the figures seem to be very strategically placed in the setting.
There is Susana in the center, the to evil old men on the left and the maidens on the right giving the scene much balance. It looks as though he may have started from the back of the painting and moved forwads as the object got closer. He probably started with the building in the back and then moved his way up to the human figures. Even though the figures are put fairly close together there is obvious depth. If there wasn’t any perspective in the painting I don’t think it would have depth and would come out rather flat and dull.
The perception of depth in this work of are seems to be very important in composing the message. The use of color might add some dimension but without depth they would still seem flat and dull. There are many things that suggest motion in this picture. Susanna’s hand is stretched out giving the impression that she is reaching out to them. The maids are pointing at theselves and also where they are going looking as if they are asking Susanna to follow them. They also look rather worried for her safety.
The maids are leaning forward while both of their right legs are extended behind them preparing for their next step making a very strong implication that they are walking rather quick. I don’t know if this is just me, but it looks as if the clouds fading into the distance faster than normal perhaps to represent the passing of time and they are golden suggesting the presence of God. I think that the way Massys has the two lurking men staring at Susanna and the two maids looking at her from the opposite direction make all the characters one.
Also their heads all lay on the same plane adding to the composition. The two benches that are on either side of Susanna lead the eye back into the painting so you experience the whole scene. It’s almost as if they are a Ying and Yang; the men want her to do bad things to them and her maids want to protect her and her good name. The creepy looks on these guys’ face give me the impression that they will blackmail the women in to getting what they want from her.
Also, unfortunately, they also appear to be powerful men and most likely have the means of doing so rather easily. The look as if perhaps they are part of the clergy somehow, and this ties back to the representation of the corruption going on in this time. Perhaps Massys was Protestant and was trying to convey her view of the Catholic order. Also their heads all lay on the same plane adding to the composition. The two benches that are on either side of Susanna lead the eye back into the painting so you experience the whole scene.