Rembrandt, Susanna and the Two Elders, 1647. Oil on mahogany panel, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. © Photo: Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606−1669) was the most important painter of the Dutch Golden Age and arguably one of the most influential painters in the history of European art. Rembrandt’s personal life was filled with heartbreak: he lost three of his four children at early ages as well as his beloved wife, Saskia, at just 30 years old. Despite his artistic success, Rembrandt’s penchant for lavish living forced him into bankruptcy. These tragedies in no way affected Rembrandt’s work; if anything, adversity seemed to sharpen his keen skill at portraying emotion. Here we see two Jewish elders attempting to blackmail Susanna, threatening to sully her reputation if she doesn’t succumb to their sexual desires. Daniel exonerates her, and the elders are punished. This work is not a violent depiction of the story: Rembrandt instead chose to focus on the emotional aspects of Susanna’s dilemma, which are clearly expressed on her face and in her attempt to cover herself in modesty.