Although many of Wtewael's compositions represent subjects from mythology, which seem to have allowed him freer rein in depicting large numbers of often naked figures, he did also paint and draw various biblical subjects, such as this. A painting in Gouda shows the same scene, but although the arrangement of the figures is essentially identical, the other differences between the two compositions are great enough that this drawing cannot be considered a preparatory study.1
Anne Lowenthal dates the Gouda painting circa 1611-14, and points out that Wtewael's composition seems to reflect the slightly earlier depictions of the same subject by Hendrick Goltzius (1607) and Cornelis van Haarlem (1602). The present drawing seems, however, to be rather later in date. Among Wtewael's other drawings, the closest comparisons in terms of style and handling are to be found in the celebrated series of drawings concerning the theme of Netherlandish History, previously thought to date from circa 1609-102, but which Lowenthal describes as demonstrating a clarity, simplicity and monumentality that she associates with Wtewael's drawing style of the early 1620s.3 Also similar, in terms of handling, is the fine, large Adoration of the Shepherds, in Cologne, a preparatory study for a painting of 1618,4 so a dating around 1620 would seem the most convincing.
Another, circular, drawing of Susanna and the Elders by Wtewael is in Braunschweig5, but that drawing is very different in style to this.
1. Gouda, Museum "Het Catharina-Gasthuis", inv. no. 55.150; A.W. Lowenthal, Joachim Wtewael and Dutch Mannerism, Doornspijk 1986, no. A-61, pl. 87
2. E. McGrath, 'A Netherlandish History by Joachim Wtewael,' Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, XXXVII, 1975, pp. 182-217
3. A.W. Lowenthal, 'Wtewael's Netherlandish History reconsidered,' Was getekend..liber amicorum prof.dr. E.K.J. Reznicek, Nederlands Kunsthisorisch Jaarboek, 38, 1987, pp. 215-225
4. Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, inv. no. 1963/75; Lowenthal, op. cit., 1986, pl. 109
5. Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Lowenthal, op. cit., 1986, pl. 88
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