Susannah and the Elders by Guido Reni 1620-5
As part of the National Gallery’s regular ‘talk and draw’ we studied and sketched this painting by Reni. The subject story comes from the Old Testament. The beautiful Susannah is bathing and is surprised by two watching Elders who threaten to expose her for adultery if she does not sleep with them. Susannah refuses and her innocence is proved saving her from being stoned. It was a popular subject with artists because it gave them freedom to depict a naked female form under the guise of a story with a moral.
Reni is particularly successful in capturing that moment of surprise from Susannah. He achieves this by the twisted movement of her figure which is further emphasised by the pull of the fabric as she as she tries to cover her naked body. The scene is given extra drama by the tight knit positioning of the figures and the stark contrasts of light and dark. It was the twisting movement of her body that we were asked to focus on in our sketches. I found it most helpful to use the fall of the light and shade to judge the angle and curves of the body.