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Analysis of ‘Susanna and the Elders’

Despite numerous detractors who regarded him as coarse and from low background "low born", Rembrandt thrived and was also famous for having produced great portraits like ‘Suzanna and the Elders’. Besides, he had financial constraints in his later years despite major successes in art.

Among master productions by Rembrandt is group paintings and historical portraits like ‘The Military Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq’ (1642), ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp’ (1632), ‘Aristotle with a Bust of Homer’(1653) and ‘Suzanna and the Elders’. In ‘Suzanna and the Elders’ as well as in all his other works of art among them lifelong trails of intriguing and rather frank self portraits, the artist has consistently exposed his curiosity in a psychological study and continue to be accepted as milestones in Western art.

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For example, in Suzanna, the artist has applied much artistic themes which have offered quite satisfying opportunity for a legitimized voyeurism as Susanna and the Elders. The subject was taken up by relish by artists from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries as an opportunity to display the female nude, in much the same spirit that such themes as Danae or Lucretia were approached. However, Suzanna had an added advantage that the nude's erotic could be heightened by the presence of two lecherous old men, whose inclusion was both iconographically justified and pornographically effective. It is a remarkable testament to the indomitable male ego that a biblical theme holding forth an exemplum of female chastity should have become in painting a celebration of sexual opportunity or as Max Rooses enthusiastically described Rubens's version, a "gallant enterprise mounted by two adventurers. Tintoretto, whose adventurers stage their advance in a manner more sneaky than bold, nonetheless offers a representative depiction of the theme in his emphasis upon Susanna's voluptuous body and upon the Elders' ingenuity in getting a closer look at it (pp. 149-150).

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The meaning of the ninth-century Susanna Crystal has never been satisfactorily explained. Lauer's 1908 hypothesis allures the artwork with the attempted divorce of Lothar II. Other commentaries like the Carolingian polemic prose and commentaries regarding Daniel 13 offer three broader interpretations on the portrait. To them, the picture of Susanna is an example of Chastity, or the entire episode is a figure of just judgment. Through the picture, the artist applies the use of portrait in order to importantly support the object of condemnation. In his application of a circle, the artist applies of crystal which includes and compositionally asserts the summoning of Susanna and cautiously uses it to differentiate between interrogation and condemnation. A presiding judge and community who are also viewers are an additional to the biblical story. All of these make up stress the efficient functioning of legal judgment. The additional judge is like a Carolingian king as well as a prominent inscription: LOTHARIVS REX FRANCORVM ME FIERI IVSSIT that draw attention to the patronage of Lothar II (855-869). The unordinary wording of these words asserts Lothar's role as patron, his position and the link between him and the people. In this portrait works just judgment is frequently cited as one of the most imperative characteristics of the ideal king. In this picture, by Susanna Crystal might claim this important majestic virtue for Lothar II.

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Besides, the portrait of ‘Susanna and the Elders’ offered Rembrandt the opportunity to showcase a beautiful woman without any clothes on. It also presents other artists and viewers respectively a chance to show and see the faith of Susanna and her trust that God will save her. Furthermore it depicts the degeneracy of those who would use the law for their own personal gain. It also perhaps draws a comparison between Susanna and Lucrece who in akin situation, did not defend against when Tarquin threaten to kill her and a servant and with an accusation that she was found in the act of adultery. Through aligning with the biblical text and presenting Susanna naked, the artist might also be exposing corruption by inviting viewers to note the practices of dishonesty from the two corrupt judges. These judges applied double standards by making Susanna to unveil herself at her trial so that they could have the opportunity to see her beauty. This is satirical of them since they too participated and were therefore not immune. Among his paintings was ‘The Night Watch’ also referred to as The Military Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq that reflected and hid so much majorly because earlier on the painting was thought to reflect a nighttime. However, when the painting was cleaned up in the 1940s it became evident that it reflected a daytime panorama. Most people pursuing to understand the full measure of the success of Rembrandt, numerous mistakes have at times been made of interpreting his works to be an autobiography. For instance his encounters are depicted in his works although not directly, but symbolized into art. This is because the actions of art are naturally different in form from the events of life. However this difference can easily slip our understanding since little is known about the relations between these two different spheres of being.

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Due to the rich content of the picture most people have attributed it to his father. Nonetheless, the portrait of ‘Suzanna and the Elders’ is undisputedly considered as being the pioneer portrait by Rembrandt. The portrait reveals exclusive use of light and space. For instance there is remarkable use of space by the artist through placing his signature right under Suzanna’s legs. This portrait also reveals professional structural excellence since the shadow cast is accurately through construction and color use. The expertise that this exclusive work portrays could be the reason why it is believed that it was done by his parent.

The theme of lust is cleverly depicted in the portrait of Suzanna and the Elders. It is a biblical story of a virtuous young woman, who was sexually harassed by the elders of her community. The picture does not show Susanna as coyly or flirtatious just as many male artists had painted the scene, but rather it takes the female approach and presents Susanna as frightened, vulnerable, and disgusted by their demands. It goes as to reveal how men loom large, leering, menacing, and conspiratorial towards her.

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The artist summarizes Suzanna’s life as having completed this scene prior to her rape by Tassi. The whole issue in the picture reflects the sexual harassment by him and other artists at the time that he began training at his studio. The story in the picture unfolds that when the people departed away at noon, Susanna went in, and walked in her husband's orchard which is a sense of defilement by the elders.

In the portrait, this defilement occurred each time the old men saw her going in and walking around. Through their obsession and lust towards Suzanna these old men perverted their own mind. Therefore not by their own act they turned away their eyes and could not look unto heaven, neither think of the just judgments. Although figuratively depicted, they were both stained with the lust of her, yet they did not confess their grief amongst each other. Immersed in shame they were unable to declare to one another their lust, being desirous to have to do with her. They watched carefully every day to see her and then one said to the other that they should go home as dinner time was approaching. So going out, they departed one from another.

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The painting ‘Suzanna and the Elders’ brought in a lot of prowess to his professional promise and willingness to experiment with psychological dynamics. Tintoretto as others refer to Suzanna is a popular image in sixteenth-eighteenth-century art just like the Old Testament story of Susanna and the Elders. For instance, the portraits are based on the thirteenth chapter of the book of Daniel in the Bible. It goes as follows: The story depicted in the portrait of ‘Suzanna and the elders’ is told in the Apocryphal Book of Daniel and Suzanna. The picture exclusively reflects Suzanna as having been brought up by religious parents who also instilled her with teachings of the Law of Moses. The picture also indicates authoritarian customs that this woman was married into. It also extends to show how such laws could render one helpless even before her own husband who is charged with the responsibility of protecting his wife and children. This can be helplessness is exemplified by the position Joakim cuts in the society as a wealthy man of Babylon and under whose own house the jew elders used to meet as well as pass decisions on issues.

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The portrait also looks into the issue of well wisher and sympathizers who felt sympathy for the woman. This is shown in the picture when the elders have ordered that Suzanna be unveiled. This offers the viewer the opportunity to learn that despite the challenges that one might be going through; there are people who feel and grieve. For instance unveiling her made all her acquaintances and friends to weep. The portrait of Suzanna and the Elders ironically presents the defilement of the elders casting in into view when they lay hands on that which they have condemned. This can be noted when the two elders rose up in the midst of the people, laid hands upon the condemned woman.

In ‘Suzanna and the Elders’, the artist applied exclusive use of light in art and engrossed himself with treating biblical subjects like portraits besides painting self-portraits. For example, in ‘Suzanna and the Elders’ the artist exhibits a lively brushwork and a new use of light. Furthermore, the artwork of Suzanna presents the artist as an innovator and acute observer of life who is sensitive and committed to render of his critical thinking and observations in his drawings, paintings and etchings. The human figure of speech of ‘Suzanna and the Elders’, Rembrandt's key subject contributes to the logic of a shared dialogue between viewer and artist. ‘Suzanna and the Elders’ provide evidence that the foundation of Rembrandt's greatness and of his popularity today is etched in his portraits.

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