Susanna is harassed by two elderly men in her garden where she bathes. She rebuffs their sexual advances, and the men, in their viciousness, accuse her of adultery. Susanna’s innocence is at last revealed when a cross-examination in court shows that they are liars, and as such they are put to death for their vileness. Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish Baroque painter and diplomat, depicted this Old Testament Apocrypha subject, popular with artists since the Renaissance, more than seven times.
A celebrated and well-connected artist by the 1630s, Rubens shrewdly boosted his reputation through the dissemination of his works through prints. As he developed multiple collaborative projects with other artists in his studio, he was closely involved in the production of these images. Contrary to the more conventional use of intaglio techniques for reproducing paintings, he trusted the well-known Antwerp woodcutter Christoffel Jegher to transfer this and eight other scenes into woodcuts (a relief printmaking process).
In the Mead’s impression of the Susanna story, Jegher masterfully depicts the drama of the incident and accentuates the emotions of the figures. In rendering the dynamics of Rubens’s composition, Jegher cuts a dense thatch of crossed lines for darker effects; long sinuous lines create volume and tone as they follow the form they describe, and fine parallel cuts create the illusion of atmospheric perspective. The intensity of the scene is echoed in the erotic insert on the right, showing a putto riding on a fish, while diagonally across the image, the quiet vista through the garden hints at a virtuous end to the narrative.