In each painting the lone subject is formally and finely clothed, the body visible from table-height up. Each is turned slightly to look over their shoulder at the viewer, in the fashion of portraits of the day. While Joseph is of an august age, Susannah is somewhere between child and teenager.
De Botton and Armstrong provide commentary on both paintings on small placards beside the information provided by the NGV. The figure of the gentleman is described as “proud” and “having a really interesting look on his face” According to the commentary, “he has a clear sense of what he is about”. The passage about the portrait of Susannah, on the other hand, focuses on her vulnerable body, on what she might be about “underneath” her “finery”.
“It’s not her fault,” the commentators write in reference to her blooming sexual awareness:
“Suddenly she has the power to attract men; if she displays her wrists the right way, puts some lace around her bodice, they are falling over her. She is entering the adult world.”
We found ourselves doubly-distanced by this commentary through a combination of objectification and the sense of anger that accompanies the observation of that objectification when we know the people at fault ought to know better.