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Capital letter D. Daniel 13

CAT 48 Capital letter D.  Daniel 13.  Taferelen.  BA 36..jpg

CAT 47. Capital letter D. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 3 (from Daniel 13) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 3:3. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Although no text is cited, this is clearly a depiction of Susanna and the Elders in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament Apocrypha (the text on the verso of Melville’s image includes the word “Susanna”). In the Taferelen, the plate for this Tableau appears at the end of volume 2, whereas the text, with its letter D, appears at the beginning of volume 3. In Melville’s King James copy of the Holy Bible “The Story of Susanna” appears under a separate heading within the Apocrypha, “set apart from the beginning of Daniel, because it is not in the Hebrew.” The actions of the elders are described in these words: “[15] And it fell out, as they watched a fit time, she went in as before with two maids only, and she was desirous to wash herself in the garden, for it was hot. [16] And there was no body there save the two elders, that had hid themselves, and watched her. [17] Then she said to her maids, Bring me oil and washing balls, and shut the garden-doors, that I may wash me. . . . [19] Now when the maids were going forth, the two elders rose up, and ran unto her, saying, [20] Behold, the garden-doors are shut, that no man can see us, and we are in love with thee; therefore consent unto us, and lie with us. [21] If thou wilt not, we will bear witness against thee, that a young man was with thee: and therefore thou didst send away thy maids from thee.” After resisting the elders' advances, Susanna is saved from their accusation by young Daniel, who proved her innocence through a masterful cross-examination of two elders.

Inside the letter D we see Susanna with the two elders immediately behind her. Her maids are gone, but she is not yet naked, though her dress is above the knee. She is not as fully revealed as Bathsheba in the scene with David (CAT 44), but she nevertheless adds to the sensuous strain in Melville’s sequence of Biblical illustrations. This depiction of Susanna specifically resembles that of Bathsheba in the delicate presentation of her bare foot in the water (in this case beyond the lower curve of the letter D). A fuller suggestion of female nudity is seen in the sculptured shape protruding from the fountain at the left. Father Saurin begins his commentary by declaring: “Beauty may be a lovely gift, but becomes the more a dangerous one, the more lovely she is: since a lecher forever peeps at and besets her, she must be founded upon unshakeable pillars of honor and faith, to stand up against all temptations and enticements, and prevent the doom of body and soul” (3:3).