Galleria Borghese logo
Search results for
No results :(

Hints for your search:

  • Search engine results update instantly as soon as you change your search key.
  • If you have entered more than one word, try to simplify the search by writing only one, later you can add other words to filter the results.
  • Omit words with less than 3 characters, as well as common words like "the", "of", "from", as they will not be included in the search.
  • You don't need to enter accents or capitalization.
  • The search for words, even if partially written, will also include the different variants existing in the database.
  • If your search yields no results, try typing just the first few characters of a word to see if it exists in the database.

Susanna and the Elders

Rubens Pieter Paul

(Siegen 1577 - Antwerp 1640)

Rubens returned to the subject of this work on several occasions; this canvas is the oldest version of the theme painted by the artist. It has formed part of the Borghese Collection since at least the mid-17th century, as we know from Manilli’s guidebook to Villa Pinciana. Nonetheless, a payment made in 1622 to Annibale Durante for a frame for ‘the painting with a Susanna’ may refer to this work, which would mean that its presence in the Collection dates to at least that year. It is not clear whether Cardinal Scipione commissioned the canvas or if he purchased it after its execution, either directly from the artist or from a previous owner. While in the past the work was believed to be a product of Rubens’s first Roman period, today critics generally date it to 1606-07, that is, to his second stay in the Eternal City.

Object details

c. 1606-1607
oil on canvas
94 x 67 cm

Salvator Rosa cm. 113,5 x 84,5 x 7


Rome, collection of Scipione Borghese, 1622 (?); Inv. 1693, room II, no. 16; Inv. 1700, room II, no. 5; Inv. 1790, room VI, no. 6; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, p. 24, no. 3. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1990 Padova, Palazzo della Ragione; Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni
  • 1992 Canberra, National Gallery of Australia; Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria
  • 1998-1999 Città del Messico, Museo Nacional de San Carlos; Ferrara, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna
  • 2001 Roma, Palazzo Venezia; Londra, Royal Academy of Arts
  • 2004 Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts
  • 2005-2006 Londra, National Gallery
  • 2007-2008 Napoli, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte
  • 2008 Denver, Denver Art Museum
  • 2016-2017 Milano, Palazzo Reale
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1950-1951 Augusto Cecconi Principi (pulitura)
  • 1999 Laura Ferret


This Susanna and the Elders is the oldest version of the theme painted by Peter Paul Rubens, who returned to the subject on several occasions.

The work was cited in Jacopo Manilli’s 1650 guidebook to Villa Pinciana as the ‘Susanna approached by the Elders, by Peter Paul Rubens’. Nonetheless, Paola Della Pergola (1959, pp. 183-184, 221, n. 82) discovered an earlier reference to the canvas in a payment made to Annibale Durante ‘for a frame for the painting with a Susanna’, dated 1622: this document seems to indicate that it already formed part of the Borghese Collection by that year.

In 1642, Giovanni Baglione (p. 363) in fact mentioned ‘the two Susannas’ among Rubens’s works, which dignified not only the city of Rome but all of Europe. One of these was probably the Borghese canvas, which the writer perhaps had seen in person.

The painting can be identified in the Borghese inventories beginning with that of 1693. All of these documents maintained the attribution to Rubens, a sign of his great fame over the centuries.

It is not possible to establish whether the work was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione or if he purchased it at a later date. Nonetheless, we do know that the artist was in Scipione’s good graces, in part because at that time Borghese held the office of protector of Germany and Flanders in the Sacred College of Cardinals. In addition, the Cardinal personally intervened to prolong Rubens’s stay in Rome, interceding on his behalf with the Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, the artist’s protector (see C. Ruelens, Correspondance de Rubens et documents épistolaires concernant sa vie et ses oeuvres, I, 1600-1608, Antwerp 1887, p. 380).

The episode depicted in the painting is from the Old Testament (Book of Daniel 13:19-23): Susanna, wife of the wealthy Jew Joachim, is surprised by two elderly men while bathing in her garden. The men threaten to falsely accuse the young woman of adultery if she refuses to lie with them; yet Susanna guards her chastity and rebuffs them. She is then forced to appear in court to defend herself against their calumny. She is unjustly condemned to death and only saved by the prophet Daniel, who serves as the vehicle of divine intervention. Susanna thus became a symbol of not only feminine virtue but also the salvation of the soul through Providence.

In the work in question, Rubens did not follow the traditional arrangement of the figures typically found in Flemish iconography, with Susanna between the elderly men. Rather, he looked to 16th-century Italian representations, in which the young woman looks in the opposite direction with respect to the gazes of her aggressors, a detail which underscores the ethical contrast between the protagonists of the scene (D’Hulst, Vandenven 1989, pp. 200-202; Paolini 2016, p. 214). In this regard, the monumentality of the nude feminine figure evidently reflects the influence of artists such as Veronese and Tintoretto (Scarpa 2007, p. 134), who painted the same subject.

The effect of the lighting in the composition is to exalt Susanna’s naked body. While D’Hulst (1989) interpreted this strategy as betraying the influence of Caravaggio, Paolini (2016) detected an allusion to Leonardo, specifically in the alternation of a luminous ray in the foreground, an almost completely dark middle ground and a slight glow in the background.

Critics have associated Susanna’s pose with that of the famous statue Boy with Thorn (Musei Capitolini, Rome), of which Rubens made a study in a drawing held today at the British Museum in London (Müller Hofstede 1977, pp. 140-141; Guarino 1990, p. 29; Rubens 1990, p. 88; Brown 2001, p. 289; Paolini 2016). Compared to this model, the female figure in the Borghese canvas is more dynamic, thanks to the greater torsion of her head, which she turns toward the old men (Jaffé 2005, pp. 78-79; Paolini 2016). As Della Pergola (1959) noted, Rubens used this same pose for another version of the same subject in a painting signed and dated 1614, which is held today at the Nationalmuseum of Stockholm.

Susanna’s gestures and energetic twisting in fact inspired Gian Lorenzo Bernini in sculpting the figure of Proserpina as she is dragged by Pluto into the underworld (Jaffé 1989, p. 161; Scarpa 2007; Paolini, 2016). The well-known sculpture group, commissioned by Cardinal Scipione, was executed by Bernini in the early 1620s and still forms part of the Borghese Collection (inv. no. CCLXVIII).

In the past, the work in question was dated to Rubens’s first stay in Rome (Müller Hofstede 1977; D’Hulst, Vandenven 1989). Today, however, critics concur that it is a product of the years 1606-07, that is, during the artist’s second period in the Eternal City. The characteristics of the Borghese canvas are in fact in keeping with those of other works by the Flemish artist of these years (Jaffé 1989, pp. 164-165, n. 70; Guarino 1990; Rubens p. 88; Scarpa 2007; Paolini 2016).

An engraving of the work was made by Paulus Pontius, which dates to 1624.

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • G. Baglione, Vite de’ pittori scultori e architetti. Dal Pontefìcato di Gregario XIII del l572 In fino a’ tempi di Papa Urbano VIII nel 1642, Roma 1642, p. 363;
  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 107;
  • A. Manazzale, Itinerario di Roma e suoi contorni o sia Descrizione de’ monumenti antichi, e moderni [1794], Roma 1817, I, p. 243;
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno MDCCCXXXVIII. Parte seconda moderna, Roma 1841, p. 601;
  • X. Barbier de Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870, p. 364;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 399;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 145;
  • F. Haberditzl, Studien über Rubens, in “Jahrb. d. Kunsthist. Smlgn. d. Allerh. Kaiserh.”, XXX, 1911, pp. 266 ss.;
  • R. Oldenbourg, P.P. Rubens, (“Klassiker der Kunst”, V), Stuttgart; Berlin 1921, p. 19;
  • R. Longhi, La Notte del Rubens a Fermo, in “Vita Artistica”, 1927, II, p. 196;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 201;
  • G. Glück, Rubens, Van Dyck und ihr Kreis, Wien 1933, pp. 12 (nota), 17-16, 276, 374;
  • A. De Rinaldis, La Galleria Borghese in Roma (“Itinerari dei Musei e Monumenti d’Italia”), Roma 1939, p. 41;
  • L. Van Puyvelde, La Peinture Flamande à Rome, Bruxelles 1950, pp. 150, 152;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma (“Itinerari dei Musei e monumenti d’Italia”), Roma 1951, p. 49;
  • L. Van Puyvelde, Rubens, Paris; Bruxelles 1952, pp. 92, 198;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 183-184, n. 273;
  • L. Burchard D’Hulst, Rubens. Drawings, Bruxelles 1963, p. 35;
  • J. Muller Hofstede, An early Rubens “Conversion of St. Paul”, in “Burlington Magazine”, CVI, 1964, p. 96;
  • P. Della Pergola, P.P. Rubens e il tema della Susanna al bagno, in “Bulletin des Museés Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique”, XVI, 1967, pp. 7-22;
  • J. Müller Hofstede, in Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), I, Rubens in Italien, catalogo della mostra (Köln, Kunsthalle, 1977), a cura di G. Bott et alii, Köln 1977, pp. 140-141, n. 5;
  • M. Jaffé, Rubens in Italy, Oxford 1977, pp. 78, 90, 98;
  • R. A. D’Hulst, M. Vandenven, Rubens - The Old Testament, London 1989, pp. 200-202, n. 58;
  • M. Jaffé, Rubens. Catalogo completo, Milano 1989, pp. 164-165, n. 70;
  • S. Guarino, Rubens a Roma: i lavori per S. Croce in Gerusalemme e S. Maria in Vallicella, in Rubens e Roma, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 1990), a cura di S. Guarino, R. Magrì, Roma 1990, p. 29;
  • Rubens. Pietro Paolo Rubens (1577-1640), catalogo della mostra (Padova, Palazzo della Ragione; Roma, Palazzo delle esposizioni; Milano, Società per le Belle Arti ed Esposizione Permanente, 1990), a cura di D. Bodart, Roma 1990, p. 88, n. 25;
  • D. Jaffé, in Esso presents: Rubens and the Italian Renaissance, catalogo della mostra (Canberra, Australian National Gallery; Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, 1992), a cura di D. Jaffé, M. Chiarini, Canberra 1992, p. 86, n. 21;
  • M. Calvesi, Tra vastità di orizzonti e puntuali prospettive. Il collezionismo di Scipione Borghese dal Caravaggio al Reni al Bernini, in Galleria Borghese, a cura di A. Coliva, Roma 1994, p. 294;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Guida alla Galleria Borghese, Roma 1997, p. 110;
  • A. Padrón Mérida, in Rubens e il suo secolo, catalogo della mostra (Città del Messico, Museo Nacional de San Carlos; Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, 1998-1999), a cura di M. Díaz Padrón, A. Padrón Mérida, Ferrara 1999, n. 15;
  • C. Stefani, in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 368, n. 2;
  • B. L. Brown, in Il genio di Roma, 1592-1623, catalogo della mostra (Londra, Royal Academy of Arts; Roma, Palazzo Venezia, 2001) a cura di B. L. Brown, Roma 2001, p. 289, n. 107;
  • H. Vlieghe, in Rubens, catalogo della mostra (Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 2004), a cura di A. Brejon de Lavergnée, H. Devisscher, Paris 2004, p. 34, n. 7;
  • D. Jaffé, in Rubens: a master in the making, catalogo della mostra (Londra, National Gallery, 2005-2006), a cura di D. Jaffé et alii, London 2005, pp. 78-79, n. 19;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 93;
  • T. Scarpa, in Omaggio a Capodimonte, catalogo della mostra (Napoli, Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, 2007-2008), a cura di N. Spinosa, Napoli 2007, pp. 134-135;
  • A. Dumas, Old art into new: the Impressionists and the reinvention of tradition, in Inspiring Impressionists and the Art of the Past, catalogo della mostra (Atlanta, High Museum of Art; Denver, Denver Art Museum; Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, 2007-2008), a cura di A. Dumas, X. Bray, New Haven 2007, p. 39, n. 92;
  • C. Paolini, in Rubens e la nascita del Barocco, catalogo della mostra (Milano, Civico Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, 2016-1017), a cura di A. Lo Bianco, Venezia 2016, pp. 241-215, n. 54.