Seeing beyond the traditional image of Susanna and the Elders

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University of Alabama Libraries

For centuries art and literature have been utilized to guide and define the beliefs of society. One of the most important literary sources designed to instruct and enlighten is the Bible. The Christian Bible as we know it today derived from the Hebrew Bible, which was translated into Greek in the second century. There were a few books, known as the Apocrypha, which were not in the Hebrew Bible but were included in the Greek translation. The Apocrypha consisted of fifteen books of didactic writings, some of which were in narrative form. It is these narrative stories that contain lessons of proper conduct in accordance with the religious beliefs of Hebrew culture. It is the story of Susanna and the Elders from the Apocryphal Book of Daniel that comprises the subject of this thesis. Artistically the story of Susanna and the Elders has been depicted with specific intentions, for visual pleasure and didactic instruction. Particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this story was utilized to guide and express societal beliefs of the gender roles of men and women. The Biblical figure of Susanna contained the morals and values that every woman was to maintain within her own life. Images of Susanna were intended as visual reminders to women of the proper behavior expected of them. Chapter 2 will discuss how Susanna's story and its images reflect the sixteenth and seventeenth century beliefs of feminine behavior. The discussion will continue in Chapter 3 by addressing how certain images of Susanna are within the tradition of representing the male-desired ideal of a woman. Although traditionally the art of Susanna's story has been an educational tool and representation of feminine beauty, there are some works that go beyond this tradition to address the art/viewer relationship. Chapter 4 will complete the examination of Susanna's evolution from the passive traditional depiction to active interaction.

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