Oil on canvas. Signed: Giovanni Battista Vanni.
Giovanni Battista Vanni was born in Pisa and studied with Jacopo da Empoli and Matteo Rosselli, among others. From 1624 to 1632, he lived in Rome. This large-format painting displays the characteristics typical of Roman high Baroque and probably dates specifically to this period.
Susanna, a figure from the Old Testament Book of Daniel (chapter 13), was a beautiful and virtuous woman, wife of the prominent Babylonian Jew Jehoiakim. Members of the local Jewish community often met in his garden, where Susanna walked every day. Two Jewish elders noticed her, secretly followed her and started to desire her. One day, while Susanna bathed in the garden, the men confront her. The elders threatened to accuse her of adultery with a young man if she refused to submit to them. As an exemplary wife, Susanna refused to succumb to the pressure. Based on their false testimony, she was then charged and sentenced to death. Susanna begged the Lord for help. When the sentence was about to be carried out, Daniel came to her aid - at the last minute he independently interrogated the two old men and found inconsistencies in their testimonies. The Jewish judges determined that the two men had invented everything, saving Susanna at the last minute from certain death.
Vanni’s painting captures the moment when the old men are trying to convince Susanna to come to them. We see her dismissive gesture as one of the men pulls her towards him. The woman sits by the fountain, her feet in the water. Although topless, her expression is adamant and her hand tries to protect at least her lap. The second old man has a magnifying glass in his hand, with which he earnestly gazes at her nude female body.