The story of Susanna and the Elders is an addition to the book of Daniel and it recounts the dramatic story of the beautiful and pious Susanna. In the story Susanna is the wife to the wealthy and respected Joakim, the elders of the Babylonian house gather daily to judge the people’s cases but two of these elders lust after Susanna and conspire to rape her while she is alone bathing. This story has been used by artists to create pieces for hundreds of years. Tintoretto’s representation is one of the better art pieces of the story so this is why I’ve chosen it to relate to the theme of The Gender and Gaze. In this essay I will be sharing my ideas behind how this image is related to the theme Gender and the Gaze and why other themes may not be.The main theme that I’m going to explore relating to Susanna and the Elders is gender and the gaze.
There are many ways in which it relates to this theme some more obvious than others. Gender has been one of the key aspects of the gaze and has been used in art to draw attention of both female and male viewers. John Berger suggests “Men dream of women, women dream of themselves being dreamt of. Men look at women and women watch themselves being looked at.” (John Berger, Ways of Seeing: The Male Gaze,video1972). Most paintings of this era uses the male gaze specifically to attract its viewers and this is the case for Susanna and the elders. As for many of the European paintings of the time, Susanna is positioned in the image as if she is available to men both within the image and us as the viewers but Susanna in the case is married and shouldn’t be being viewed as available in this way and especially by the elders who are lusted for Susanna. Susanna is positioned starting to bathe while admiring herself in a mirror, she is posed like this simply for the easy of viewing and created to be seen as objects of the male gaze.
The male gaze is also linked to the elders as they are seen, as we are, viewing Susanna in all her glory. While viewing her we then become one of the elders, spying on her and watching her as she bathes. If you to take away the story of how the elders are lusted for Susanna they would be simply seen as viewers of her and not lusting for her at all.
As I mentioned before Susanna is seen staring into a mirror, the mirror is a very significant object within the image and is used in many representations of the story. Mirrors are symbolic because they are also known to symbolise femininity. Although we cannot see Susanna’s reflection we know that that she is viewing herself within it as she is completely oblivious to the elders that are starting to surround her.
If you look deeper into this you can start to understand that Susanna is being quite narcissistic as she is admiring herself and her appearance. But she isn’t just being narcissistic, the fact that the elders are lusted for her and want her supports that she is beautiful and isn’t just seen that way by herself but by others as well.