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German stoneware jug with pewter lid, decorated in relief with a frieze depicting ‘Susannah and the Elders’

16th century

Museum number: MP58

Curatorial note

This jug was probably purchased by Soane specifically for his newly completed antiquarian Monk's Parlour, where it remained on display at the time of his death.

The story of Susannah (or Susanna) and the Elders is from the Old Testament Book of Daniel. Susannah, a virtuous Jewish wife, is watched bathing naked in her garden by two lecherous Elders who threaten to claim that she has been illicitly meeting a young man unless she agrees to have sex with them. The two men are questioned separately and disagree about the type of tree under which they saw her meeting her lover. One claims it was a mastic tree, the other that it was an evergreen oak - the difference in size between these two types of tree exposes their lies. The Elders are put to death and virtue triumphs. This story was regarded as one illustrating an important lesson which may explain its use as decoration on this vessel. Although this jug was made in Germany it is interesting to note that Article VI of the 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England (1571) names the Story of Susanna among those in the apocryphal books of the bible, that "the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners" (as instructed, it says, by St Jerome).

Provenance help-art-provenance

Purchased by John Soane at the Charles Yarnold Sale (auctioneer Mr. Southgate), 11 July 1825, Lot 134, An ancient jug, time of Queen Elizabeth, with the story of Susanna & the Elders in fine preservation, from the collection of Octavius Gilchrist, Esq., for £2.0.0. Octavius Graham Gilchrist (1779-1823) was a literary scholar who lived in Stamford, Lincolnshire. He met the poet John Clare in 1819 and was responsible for introducing him to the man who became his publisher, John Taylor - a man Soane knew well.


If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk