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Monday 6 of september 2021


KörperMagazine in Collab with @seeartaroundu

Abuse of power towards another person can be found in almost every area of our lives. It can be perpetrated by anyone who considers themselves superior to another, be it because of their race, gender, nationality, religion, position in the work hierarchy or for any other reason. Classical art is not exempt from representing it in its works, either vindictively or as part of the thinking of past eras.

An example of this is the painting "Susanna and the Old Men" by the 17th century painter Artemisia Gentileschi. It is currently housed in Weissenstein Castle in Germany.


It should be borne in mind that most of the classical (and not so classical) works have been painted by men, so that the vision of the subject is almost always male. The same biblical theme varied depending on whether it was painted by a man or a woman. It should be borne in mind that very few women at that time were allowed to learn to paint anything other than still lifes.

Through this work the artist wanted to denounce the abuse of power over women, exemplified by the biblical story of Susanna and the old men. In this scene Susanna is shown naked in a suspicious attitude because of the importuning and harassment of the old men.  The story goes that two old men tried to rape her while she was bathing, and when she resisted the old men went around telling people that they had seen Susanna committing adultery. She was condemned to death. Daniel interrogated the old men and Susanna's innocence was proven.


Artemisia was one of the very few women at that time who was able to acquire an important knowledge of painting, a field almost exclusively for men. Her father was the painter Orazio Gentileschi. She painted this work when she was only sixteen years old.

When her father saw his daughter's potential, he gave her a personal tutor, Agostino Tassi. This man raped Artemisia, because of this, he had to endure numerous physical ordeals, public humiliations, trials, etc. so that the accused spent only three months in prison. From this moment on, almost all her works would have a vindictive backlash against female power and empowerment, showing strong women.

The fact that she was a woman made Susana's anatomical representation much more realistic than that of contemporary painters. In addition, her works differ in that they show a female perspective of such situations, in this case showing Susana totally terrified by the harassment of the old men, instead of timid and innocent as the other male artists show her.

To conclude, it would be interesting to continue an earlier argument and sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words. Next, a work by a male painter on the same biblical theme will be shown.

In the first we have the representation of Susanna and the Elders by Peter Paul Rubens. In the second image by Veronese Caliari Paolo Veronese.


If we place these two representations next to that of Artemisia we can see the great change in the representation of the woman, in the second case we see how Susanna talks to the two old men, while in the first Susanna shows a very romanticised face of horror. In both cases, this scene was used by the artists as the perfect pretext to represent the naked woman, since at that time the church almost did not allow the nudity of women in art, unless it was mythological or biblical. Besides the fact that the works were mostly commissioned. 


In the case of Artemisia we can see how she uses this theme, not to represent female nudity, but to denounce an event that happened to her, she does not romanticize the scene, in the face and body of Susanna we can see the horror and displeasure. It shows the abuse of power of men over women, as well as being a very similar theme to what happened to Artemisia, since they did not believe her when she told her story, as both the old men in the biblical theme and Artemisia' art teacher were in a position of power over them.


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