Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


History of Art


In 1563, the Council of Trent issued a decree which stated, "...all lasciviousness is to be avoided, so that images shall not be painted and adorned with seductive charm." In the wake of this mandate, and other Netherlandish mandates intended to bolster the Council's decrees, prints of the biblical heroine Susanna proliferated in the Low Countries. The majority of these engravings, etchings, and woodcuts portray the attempted seduction of a provocative female nude by two old men, a scene which explicitly manifests "lasciviousness" and "seductive charm." This dissertation examines why these erotically charged prints of Susanna and the Elders flourished amidst the ubiquitous condemnation of provocative imagery. It is my contention that these prints were engaged in the Reformation/Counter-Reformation disputes over the depiction of "lascivious" subjects and demonstrated the power of such imagery to incite indecorous behaviors. Although they seem to contradict the Reformers' and Counter-Reformers' interdictions, these prints actually advanced and visually articulated the religious and aesthetic mandates of the period. As such, Netherlandish prints of Susanna functioned as warnings against the dangerous ef fects of seeing seductive imagery.

As evidence for this assertion, I survey a selection of admonitory sixteenth-century texts which describe and denounce the alleged dangers of sight, and reveal the analogous function of prints of Susanna and the Elders. I also demonstrate the similarity of these prints to other contemporary images which warn of the dangerous consequences of visual gratification, such as allegorical representations of the Five Senses. Finally, I examine how prints of Susanna appeal to and engage their audience in order to offer their admonition.

This dissertation also contains a catalogue of prints of Susanna produced in the Netherlands between 1508 and 1650.