Susannah and the Elders
oil on canvas
40⅛ x 53⅛ in
101.92 x 134.94 cm
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
Jacques Blanchard was known to his contemporaries as the “French Titian,” a reference to the Venetian Renaissance artist who emphasized beautiful brushwork, coloristic effects, and emotional expression. This early work, painted on Blanchard’s return to France after nearly four years in Italy, is remarkable for its sensitive coloring and controlled drama.
According to the Roman Catholic Old Testament, two elders in Babylon secretly plotted to seduce Susannah, the wife of a prosperous merchant. They surprised her while she was bathing alone in her garden and threatened to charge her with adultery if she did not yield. After rejecting their advances she was falsely accused by them and condemned to death as an adulteress. At the eleventh hour, the prophet Daniel discovered Susannah’s innocence and she was saved.
In Hebrew, “Susannah” means “lily,” a symbol of purity; traditionally for Christians, the Old Testament story often served as an allegory of the Christian Church and the opponents who threatened it. However,in post-Renaissance art the subject was also used as a vehicle for painting the female nude. But because of his interest in portraying the emotions of the various participants, Blanchard avoids both abstract allegory and prurience and offers empathy as a valid alternative to either of these extremes.