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Robert Echols, “Domenico Tintoretto/Susanna/c. 1580s,” Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/372 (accessed July 18, 2019).

 

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Mar 21, 2019 Version

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Overview

The story of the beautiful and chaste Susanna is recounted in Daniel 13. Two elders of Babylon lusted for Susanna, the wife of the priest Joachim. They spied upon her as she bathed, then threatened to falsely accuse her of adultery with another man unless she submitted to their advances. Although the subject can be interpreted as a parable of justice—Susanna is ultimately vindicated—artists of the period clearly favored the image of the nude Susanna at the bath for its sensual appeal.

The painting may have originally been part of a decorative ensemble of six biblical scenes that hung above a series of doors. The nude figure is stylistically comparable to those in other paintings that can be identified as Tintoretto studio products of the 1570s and 1580s. These nude figures can be distinguished from those by Jacopo Tintoretto (Venetian, 1518 or 1519 - 1594) himself, which show a more convincing sense of the figures’ underlying anatomy, as well as more varied and dynamic compositions. Here, Susanna is a much simpler conception, focusing on the nude figure, with only the barest allusion to narrative elements in the two sketchy figures of the elders in the background.

The identification of different hands in the Tintoretto shop remains a challenge. Here, however, the maid’s facial type is one that appears regularly in paintings that can be associated with Domenico, Tintoretto’s son. The picture can thus provisionally be assigned to Domenico, working in his father’s studio.

Entry

The story of the beautiful and chaste Susanna is recounted in Daniel 13. Two elders of Babylon lusted for Susanna, the wife of the priest Joachim. They spied upon her as she bathed, then threatened to falsely accuse her of adultery with another man unless she submitted to their advances. Although the subject can be interpreted as a parable of justice—Susanna is ultimately vindicated—artists of the period clearly favored the image of the nude Susanna at the bath for its sensual appeal.[1]

Jacopo Tintoretto’s Susanna and the Elders (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), painted when the artist was still in his 30s, is justifiably considered one of his greatest works, for its incandescent nude, evocative background, complicated play of pictorial space, and witty juxtaposition of different ways of looking.[2] The Gallery’s Susanna is a much simpler conception, focusing on the nude figure, with only the barest allusion to narrative elements in the two sketchy figures of the elders in the background, and none of the sophisticated intellectual content of the earlier painting.[3]

Tintoretto’s 17th-century biographer Carlo Ridolfi reported that “Senator Lorenzo Delfino [Dolfin] has . . . six scenes from the Old Testament placed above doors; namely . . .  Susanna in the garden, and the two old men, emerging in the distance from a pergola.”[4] The Gallery’s Susanna fits this description. The somewhat perfunctory nature of the picture’s composition and execution is consistent with an origin as part of a decorative ensemble rather than as a painting intended to be appreciated on its own.[5]

The Gallery’s Susanna has been accepted as an autograph work by Tintoretto by a number of scholars, among them Bernard Berenson, Rodolfo Pallucchini, and Paola Rossi, and, in early manuscript opinions, Roberto Longhi, Raimond van Marle, F. Mason Perkins, Giuseppe Fiocco, Wilhelm Suida, and Adolfo Venturi.[6] Dissenters, however, include Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat, Fern Rusk Shapley, and Robert Echols and Frederick Ilchman, and the painting can best be deemed a studio work.[7] The nude figure is comparable to those in other paintings that can be identified as Tintoretto studio products of the 1570s and 1580s, such as the Concert (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden), Leda and the Swan (two versions, both Uffizi, Florence), and Hercules Ejecting the Faun from the Bed of Omphale (Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest; probably by Jacopo Tintoretto’s son Domenico).[8] These nude figures can be distinguished from those by Jacopo Tintoretto himself, such as those in Tarquin and Lucretia (Art Institute of Chicago); in the allegories painted for the Atrio Quadrato in the Palazzo Ducale, Venice; and in the Origin of the Milky Way (National Gallery, London).[9] All of these show a more convincing sense of the figures’ underlying anatomy and dynamics, as well as more varied and dynamic compositions.[10] Similarly, as noted by Shapley, the shorthand rendering of the two elders under the arbor in the background, while resembling similarly sketchy figures in works by Tintoretto dating back to the Miracle of the Slave of 1548, lacks the virtuoso mastery of Tintoretto’s own hand.[11] The maid seems almost an afterthought, throwing the composition off-balance. Her facial type is one that appears regularly in paintings that can be associated with Domenico, such as the Budapest Hercules and Omphale.[12] The picture can thus provisionally be assigned to Domenico, working in his father’s studio. However, the identification of different hands in the Tintoretto shop remains a challenge. Moreover, this painting was probably produced during Jacopo Tintoretto’s lifetime and, as a product of his studio, would have been accepted as a work “by Tintoretto.”

Robert Echols

March 21, 2019

Provenance

Probably Senator Lorenzo Dolfin [or Delfino, 1591-1663], Venice, by 1642.[1] George Oakley Fisher [1859-1933], Egremont House, Sudbury, England.[2] (David M. Koetser Gallery, London). (Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Florence); sold June 1936 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[3] gift 1939 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1996
Obras Maestras de la National Gallery of Art de Washington, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City, 1996-1997, unnumbered catalogue, 48-49, color repro.
1999
Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 1999, no. 79, repro.
Technical Summary

The painting was executed on a fabric support made up of two pieces of medium-weight, herringbone fabric sewn together. The vertical seam is located approximately one-quarter from the left edge. The painting has been lined, and the original support has been extended at the top and bottom by a total of approximately 14 centimeters. A strip of canvas of 6 to 7.5 centimeters has been sewn along the top. A strip of 8.5 to 9 centimeters has been added at the bottom; this strip is not sewn to the original canvas and was probably added at the time the painting was first lined. Light cusping evident along both sides indicates that the canvas has not been extended nor cut down horizontally.

Analysis of cracks with a stereo microscope indicates that the painting was built up with multiple layers, probably on a white ground followed by dark underlayers of different colors, with the additional paint layers built up from dark to light. Infrared reflectography at 1.2 to 5 microns[1] reveals rough preparatory sketches for the principal figure executed with a brush and dark paint, showing several changes in pose. The most significant of these is the change in the position of Susanna’s legs. An x-radiograph composite shows a full-face view of Susanna, as well as the change in the position of her legs visible in the infrared reflectogram, numerous small changes in her drapery, and major changes in the area to the left of the figure, which are difficult to interpret. Underlayers of unexpected colors can be detected under the final paint layers, such as a bright orange layer under the blue of the sky and a blackish layer under the orange drapery. These may be additional evidence that the composition was extensively reworked during its creation.

The paint surface is heavily abraded throughout, but especially in the orange drapery, and there are many small areas of paint loss, including some losses in Susanna’s face. There is an old tear in the background to the left of Susanna’s head. The painting was “relined, cleaned and restored” in 1936–1937 by Stephen Pichetto. By 1958 the varnish applied by Stephen Pichetto had darkened. Mario Modestini removed it and inpainted the losses and abrasion.

Joanna Dunn and Robert Echols based on the examination report by Susanna Griswold

March 21, 2019

Bibliography
1642
Ridolfi, Carlo. Vita di Giacopo Robusti detto il Tintoretto. Venice, 1642: 72.
1648
Ridolfi, Carlo. Le maraviglie dell’arte, overo Le vite de gl'illustri pittori veneti, e dello Stato. 2 vols. Venice, 1648: 2:45.
1914
Ridolfi, Carlo. Le maraviglie dell’arte, overo Le vite de gl'illustri pittori veneti, e dello Stato (Venice, 1648). Edited by Detlev von Hadeln. 2 vols. Berlin, 1914-1924: 2(1924):54.
1941
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 195, no. 342.
1942
Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 246, repro. 196.
1957
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Venetian School. 2 vols. London, 1957: 1:183.
1959
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 205, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 128.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 115, repro.
1970
De Vecchi, Pierluigi. L’opera completa del Tintoretto. Milan, 1970: 115, no. 216.
1972
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 201.
1973
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 58, fig. 110.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 340, repro.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:472-473, II:pl. 337.
1982
Pallucchini, Rodolfo, and Paola Rossi. Tintoretto: le opere sacre e profane. 2 vols. Venice, 1982: 1:160, 210, and 264, no. 377; 2:fig. 487.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 227, no. 286, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 391, repro.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 184, color repro.
1998
Apostolos-Cappadona, Diana. “Toilet Scenes." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:874.
1999
Borean, Linda. "Appunti per una storia del collezionismo a Venezia nel Seicento: la pinacoteca di Lorenzo Dolfin." Studi Veneziani 38 (1999): 274, 286, 298 fig. 6.
2009
Echols, Robert, and Frederick Ilchman. “Toward a New Tintoretto Catalogue, with a Checklist of Revised Attributions and a New Chronology.” In Jacopo Tintoretto: Actas del congreso internacional/Proceedings of the International Symposium, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, February 26-27, 2007. Madrid, 2009: 143, no. S36.
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