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Jacopo Robusti (Tintoretto)

The painting is about a story in the bible where Susanna is sitting undisturbed in her garden before elders announce their presence. The woman is naked and seems to like being on display. Her pose adopts that of Venus drying her foot. The artist rendered her body to be highly ambiguous while dissolving into artifice and melting into flesh. The paint symbolizes the biblical story of a married Susanna and the elders in Babylon after 586 BCE. The scene painted happens after Susanna had sent her two maids in the house to fetch oil and perfumes (Hahn, 637). Two elders spy on her in a conspiracy to force her submit to them sexually. Susanna refuses because according to ancient Jewish law, adultery was a capital crime for women. She refused the elders advances and was condemned to death. The painting is of Susanna as she appears more beautiful, naked, haunting and bemused. Her background is deeper and more mysterious with elders depicted as being more ludicrous, intrusive and loathsome. The painting is just symbolic and does not tell the whole story as it happened. The painter picked a scene and represented it on canvas.

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Initial observation of the painting allows us to see Susanna since her image compels and absorbs the gaze. Images of the elders come later on, since they take up their roles covertly behind the shadows as they emerge slowly from the luxuriant overgrowth. After seeing the elders, we are able to follow their gaze till we see the woman once again. The elder’s view point shifts lines of sight that are played within the painting and against that of the woman (Hahn, 637). Looking at the elders, they gaze at Susanna who does not see them since she is gazing dreamily at her image in the mirror.

The painting has the image of a woman whose head portrays blond hair with braids pinned up. The woman posses with arms stretched forward around the knee. One arm is grasping the bare foot and the other holding a towel. The towel is some sort of a long scary, silk and fringed cloth whose wispy end drops between the woman’s thighs. On the face of the woman is a half smile that parts of her reddened lips. The woman in the painting is not looking at us since her gaze is in three quarter profile when looking down. On the background of the painting are trees with different sized stems and green bushes. Behind the woman we can see another pool with ducks in it. There is a lattice wall in the rear that depicts a meadow and the woods. All these are images on the right half of the canvas. The left hand-side of the canvas is dominated by a dark slanting image. It looks like a wall that stands in the garden below which, in the left hand corner is a shape that bulges out into the view of the observer. The bald top is of an old man as it appears above a brow greased with waves of wrinkles. The pinched face has grey beard that depict an elderly man. His form drags behind in a red robbed cloth as he crawls through grass towards the foreground. The person is about to bend his head around the wall shape in order to peep at the woman taking a bath.

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The wall divides the woman in the painting to the other world where a wooded landscape continues. It looks like the other elder on the other end is holding it as he too looks towards the naked woman. The image of the second elder depicts a grey haired man with grey beard. He is in a greenish gown and his image is more pronounce than that of the crawling elder. There is another clearing further back with an antlered deer turning its head towards the scene.

The body of the woman portrays a mature being with pleasing plumps. The artist painted a body clear and bright and rich in ripples and folds. This enables the feeling of irresistible attention. The artist portrayed the relationship between men and women in relation to women themselves. Women are surveyed by men as they turn themselves into objects of vision. Tintoretto’s embrace of ambiguity makes this piece interesting since the viewer is able to idealize the appreciation of the woman’s beauty while at the same time feeling uncomfortable to the viewpoint of the elders. The paint acknowledges lechery and at the same time gives different ranges of moods, perspectives and meanings (Hahn, 645). Through the woman’s ethereal radiance, the observer is able to adore the alluring body. The painter exploited juxtaposition and disorientation that has made a perfect piece of artwork. The lechery aspect of men as depicted in the painting is still eminent today because there are men who love watching naked women from a safe distance. These men today are called peeping toms.

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The painting was meant to be part of a story of the Jewish woman Susanna. However much it can stand on its own and develop meaning, one has to understand the story behind its formation before fully understanding the painter’s intention. The painting was and is still observed in a quiet room where one can view its tranquility from a good distance. The painter’s impasto touch portrays the feathery brushstrokes and a wave of coarse canvas composition to reveal the woman’s flesh. From the large canvas, the image of the woman attracts the eye first. This is because the painter painted her on the foreground. We are able to see the brighter than life glow of her body. This is the force that attracts the eye to look.

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The painting is formally arranged because it is fully balanced. The touch of paint and color are evenly distributed across the canvas. Images in the painting are also balance with no area feeling heavier than the other. A sense of balance was mostly used by the artist. Human presence is felt on the left, right and centre through the woman and the two elders. Water is present in the foreground and the background. Trees and twigs are evenly distributed on the painting. The dominant organizational line in the painting is vertical. It depicts objects in their upright positions. All objects in the painting are proportional to one another. The painter used correct scale to depict man in the natural environment.

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Brightness and intensity is used to depict the mature body of the woman with pleasing plumps. The artist used clear and bright color to bring out the rich ripples and folds on the woman’s body. This enabled the feeling of irresistible attention. The color used is imitative of what is in nature but there is slight saturation and emphasis. The lighting is evenly distributed but the emphasis made on the woman’s body draws attention to the right side of the paint. Source of light is mysterious since no emphasis was placed on shadows.

The artist painted the foreground as close to the viewer as possible to the extent that one sees the woman at an arms length. The three dimensions enable us to see the actuality in the fullness of the woman’s figure. The ivory creamy gold tone of color reveals the muscles of her thighs and the stretch of the fleshy arm. This portrayal lies ideally in the unreal glow of the woman’s flesh. The painter’s real and ideal aspects are manifested by the large size of the canvas used by Tintoretto (Hahn, 639). He used a six feet by four feet canvas to highlight the predicament of the woman as her gaze slants to the mirror where she sees the naked radiance that we behold. I selected this piece of art because I wanted to understand how Tintoretto embraced his ambiguity to make the piece interesting. His juxtaposition enables the viewer to idealize the appreciation of the woman’s beauty while at the same time feeling uncomfortable to the viewpoint of the elders.

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