Susannah and the Elders by Guido Renni (1620-1625)

Susannah and the Elders by Guido Reni (1620-5)

Guido Reni was born in Bologna on November 4th 1575.  He studied art from the age of nine as an apprentice under the Bolognese Studio of Denis Calvaert.  At the age of twenty he worked in the Accadmi degli Incamminati (Academy of the newly embarked, or progressives) under the tutelage of Ludovico Carracci.  This academy was one of the first of its kind in Italy and singularly helped to encourage the so-called Bolognese School of the late 16th century.  His most celebrated work, Aurora, painted in 1614 is an enchantingly beautiful ceiling fresco of the large central hall of the garden palace, Casino dell’Aurora, which was a commission for Scipione Borghese.  Although he was highly successful in Rome, he returned to Bologna.   After Ludovico Carracci’s death in 1619, Reni was unrivalled as Bologna’s most important artist probably the most sought-after painter in Italy.   Reni died in Bologna in 1642 aged 66.

Today’s picture is one I saw at the National Gallery, London and is entitled Susannah and the Elders.  The incident depicted in this painting is taken from the Old Testament.  As the virtuous and beautiful Susannah bathes in her garden, she is approached by two elders who, lusting after her, threaten to accuse her of adultery if she does not sleep with them. She refuses and is falsely accused by them, but her innocence is proved and prevents her from being stoned.  There have been many other versions painted of this scene including one by his former master, Carracci.