Rome: what makes an art work, work?

Rome: what makes an art work, work?

Borghese Gallery


Rubens: ‘Susannah and the Elders’ 1605/ 1607


Rubens: 'Susanna and the Elders' 1607. oil on canvas, 94 x 66 cm. Galleria Borghese


The S shaped collapsing form turning in on itself, each part of the body, limbs turning as the whole body turns. This figure of Susannah is the epitome of the unrest. A similar process of making form to his Deposition in the Courtauld, although Christ’s discomfort is of a suitably different level to the fleshly Susannah. It is the bracelet going around the upper arm that makes this work.

Take this notion of proportion and rhythm to make an art work convincing and compare it to Raphael’s ‘Deposition’ in another room.


Raphael 'Deposition (The Entombment)', 1507. Oil on Canvas, Galleria Borghese



The key transitional work for the coming artist, all the prettiness of Urbino and then Perugino disposed of once the young tyro gets to Florence. But in this painting, it’s not quite right yet, the rhythm of the legs, and there a lot of them, that rhythm is unconvincing. All the intellectual demands are here, look at the Donni Tondo figure bottom right, but here arms are too long and muscular especially when compared to Christ and the traditional trailing arm. Across the composition you can see that he has tweaked the figures to get them to fit, therefore the balance is OK, but it’s not fluid or very interesting. So, convincing? Not quite, that combination of proportion, and pictorial space are missing something.

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