Project 4: Susanna and the Elders by Sir Peter Lely

I’m pleased that I chose to concentrate on this painting for Project 4. When I did my History of Art 1 course, one of the paintings I studied was Hayez’s Susanna at her Bath. This was an annotation for a female nude, but I remembered the story when I was at Tate Britain and saw Sir Peter Lely’s painting. I was struck by how different an interpretation it was from the Hayez.

I knew from the previous course that there had been other paintings of the story by very well-known artists, what I hadn’t realised was quite how many versions there were!

It was fascinating to research the way in which different painters had portrayed the scene, many seem to have taken it as an opportunity to paint a naked or semi-naked young woman. The trouble with this, as I found out from my research of this painting, is that it can change the whole narrative of the story. Is Susanna an innocent victim or a temptress? It brought home to me just how the interpretation of a story can change through the eyes of a painter. It reflects, to some small degree, the debate in photography over the manipulation of images. In that instance the photographer is deciding whether the story is better told by manipulating the image – in narrative painting the artist can completely change the whole context of the story from the way he or she chooses to portray it.

The Project can be found here:Lely Susanna

I have amended this exercise to reduce the word count. The amended version can be seen here: Project 4 Narrative Painting