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Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud : SUSANNA – Bilder einer Frau vom Mittelalter bis MeToo | 28.10.2022-26.02.2023

Editors’ Choice

With the world’s first exhibition on the biblical Susanna in art, the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum is dedicating itself in winter 2022/23 to a narrative and pictorial tradition that could hardly be more topical, even against the backdrop of the MeToo movement: “SUSANNA – Images of a Woman from the Middle Ages to MeToo” impressively shows how abuse of power and sexualised violence have been negotiated in painting and graphic art for centuries. 

Image above: Artemisia Gentileschi, Susanna und die Alten, 1622, 161,5 × 123 cm, Öl auf Leinwand, The Burghley House Collection, Stamford

The biblical tale of the coercion of Susanna by two old judges has exerted a great influence on art since late antiquity. The Cologne special exhibition proves this with high-class works by Artemisia Gentileschi, Anthonis van Dyck, Rembrandt, Eugène Delacroix, Édouard Manet and Lovis Corinth, among others, as well as impressive works by contemporary artists such as Kathleen Gilje, Heike Gallmeier and Zoe Leonard.

In a gripping way, “SUSANNA” traces the different interpretations of the biblical narrative, the changing demand on the art market as well as the competition and artistic discourses that were ignited by the Susanna motif. For the special exhibition with more than ninety exhibits, the Wallraf is bringing numerous loans to Cologne from renowned museums such as the National Gallery in London, the National Museum in Oslo, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Städel in Frankfurt and the Uffizi in Florence. Even the precious “Lothar Crystal” from the British Museum in London, which is more than a thousand years old, is making the journey to the Rhine with the Susanna cycle.

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Massimo Stanzione, Susanna und die beiden Alten, um 1630/35, 151,9 x 203,6 cm, Öl auf Leinwand, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

Carefully selected from several centuries, the portrayals of Susannen in paintings, prints and handicrafts are not only brought together at the Wallraf, but also confronted and compared in the light of current debates. Which gender roles are reflected in the respective exhibits? How are underlying religious, political and social ideas reflected in the images? And which prejudices play a role?

Unvarnished images of sexualised violence are juxtaposed in the Cologne special exhibition with works that use the pictorial motif as an occasion or pretext for artistic bravura. Voyeurism in reflected and non-reflected form contrasts with thoughtful and multi-layered compositions that appeal to the viewer in different ways. At the same time, the exhibition shows how artistic discourses and even competitions were ignited by the Susannen theme and can still flare up today.

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Lovis Corinth, Susanna im Bade, II. Fassung, 1890, 159 x 111 cm, Öl auf Leinwand, Museum Folkwang, Essen, © Museum Folkwang Essen – ARTOTHEK

In its own cabinet, “Hitchcock’s Susanna”, the exhibition also takes an exciting look at Alfred Hitchcock and his masterpiece “Psycho” (1960), in which the voyeur and murderer covers his secret peephole with the painting “Susanna and the Old People” by Willem van Mieris from 1731.

The exhibition opens with the oldest surviving written tradition of the story from the Book of Daniel: the three papyrus fragments on display date from around 200 A.D. They tell of the sexual coercion of Susanna by the two elders (judges). In the standard translation of the Bible it says: “We are full of desire for you: be at our will and give yourself to us! If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you.” (Book of Daniel 13:20 f.). Susanna refuses despite this threat, is accused and sentenced to death for alleged adultery. But the prophet Daniel is able to save the woman by questioning the elders separately as witnesses. The two become entangled in contradictions, thus proving Susanna’s innocence. The real perpetrators are condemned and executed.

The Old Testament story is not only one of the oldest crime stories in the world, but also the unsparing description of a sexual assault attempted by brutal means. The exhibition “SUSANNA – Images of a Woman from the Middle Ages to MeToo” from 28 October 2022 to 26 February 2023 exclusively in Cologne shows how artists from seven centuries have processed this biblical story.


Exhibition dates: 28. Oktober 2022 bis 26. Februar 2023


Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud
Obenmarspforten (am Kölner Rathaus)
50667 Köln

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