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Susanna and the Elders, 1564

Jan Massys

Flemish, c. 1509-1575
Oil on panel
42 x 77-1/2 in. (106.7 x 196.9 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
M.2005.2.P
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

Jan Massys was the son of painter Quentin Metsys. He left Antwerp in 1544 to travel to Italy and France, where he aligned himself with the School of Fountainebleau. When he returned to Antwerp, he popularized a style that emphasized the primacy of the figure set in complex poses, as well as discrepancies in scale between the figures and between the figures and their setting. His style is essentially subjective, based on an ideal of elegant artifice.

The story, taken from the Apocrypha, tells how a heroine's innocence and virtue triumph over villainy. Susanna, a married woman, is secretly desired by two elders of the community who plot to seduce her. She is shown dispatching her maids before beginning her bath; the elders lie in wait. Later she is falsely accused of adultery by the men, whose advances she refused, and is found guilty by a court and condemned to death. Her innocence is proven by the young prophet Daniel.

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