Oil on canvas
1.70m by 1.21m
Graf von Schonborn Kunstsammlungen.
Schloss Weissenstein, Pommersfelden, Germany.
Her first dated and signed work is so remarkably mature for a seventeen-year-old that many attributed it to her father. However, it is the painting that is accepted, without dispute, as being the first autograph painting by Artemisia. Her signaure can be found in the shadow caste by Susanna’s legs.
The work shows anatomical accuracy and advanced colour and construction. Her father may have guided her with the design and execution of the painting. Her palette owes much to Michelangelo, a major influence on her style.
Artemisia depicts the biblical story of Susanna, a virtuous young wife sexually harassed by the elders of her community. Rather than showing Susanna as coyly or flirtatious (as many male artists had painted the scene), Artemisia takes the female perspective and portrays Susanna as vulnerable, frightened, and repulsed by their demands, while the men loom large, leering, menacing, and conspiratorial in her direction.
The Artist’s Life
Artemisia completed this scene prior to her rape by Tassi. The drama probably reflects the sexual harassment by him and other artists at the time that she began training at his studio. The painting drew attention to her professional promise and willingness to experiment with psychological dynamics.