Daniel intervening on behalf of Susannah

by Maarten van Heemskerck

August 2011

Pen and ink drawing in brown and black on paper, 19.3 x 24.8 cm.

The Dutchman Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574) was one of the most influential Renaissance artists north of the Alps. His Italian-inspired late Mannerist pictures were disseminated all across Europe by means of mass-produced copperplate engravings and he is today known mostly for his drawn preparatory print studies. Most of these works were produced after the 1560s, when the political and religious unrest in the Netherlands, along with a decline in demand for religious artwork, caused the artist to focus increasingly on the print medium.

Daniel intervening on behalf of Susannah is a typical example of Heemskerck's carefully worked print studies, drawn with pen and brown ink. Signed by the artist and dated 1562, it served as a study for the third in a series of six engravings with images based on the Old Testament story about Susannah. A further three drawings for the series are known. The prints were made by an anonymous engraver and were published in Antwerp in 1563 by Hieronymus Cock (1518-1570). At the time, Heemskerck often collaborated with Cock, the print publisher and entrepreneur, who was a key figure in the rapid development of the publishing industry where the role of the artist became increasingly limited to that of a designer. The mechanical transfer of the picture to a graphic medium was carried out by professional workers in graphic reproduction.

Heemskerck's original drawings used as studies for engravings reflect moralising themes popular with the humanist circles established amongst his contemporaries. The story of Susannah and the Elders is based on an apocryphal story from the book of Daniel (Daniel 13). It is set in Babylon and recounts how the virtuous wife of a wealthy man is coveted by two older men. They watch her in secret when she takes a bath and threaten to accuse her of adultery if she does not give herself to them. Susannah refuses and is put on trial, falsely accused of adultery, and is sentenced to death. The drawing at Nationalmuseum depicts the dramatic moment when Susanna is given her sentence and is about to be led away by guards when the young Daniel suddenly intervenes. By cross-examining the elders, he manages to prove her innocence and have her released. With its erotic undertones, the story of Susannah and the Elders enjoyed great success amongst viewers at the time. 

Image: Maarten van Heemskerck, Daniel intervening on behalf of Susannah

Maarten van Heemskerck, Daniel intervening on behalf of Susannah.

Bild: Detalj från Daniel ingriper till Susannas försvar av Maarten van Heemskerck

The story gave artists the opportunity to depict the female body – clothed as well as naked. Against the background of the intensifying religious oppression in the Netherlands, Heemskerck's portrayal of Susannah's fate could be interpreted, specifically, as a promise of salvation for the righteous.

The drawing, which belonged to the Duke of Devonshire's acclaimed collection at Chatsworth House, was acquired by the Nationalmuseum in June 2010, thanks to a donation from the Wiros fund.

Inventory number: NMH 3/2010

Learn more 

Slide show presenting interesting details in the drawing.

In depth text with commentaries to the slide show.


Art Library and Museum Archives,
Holmamiralens väg 2,
Skeppsholmen, Stockholm 

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