REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
(b. 1606, Leiden, d. 1669, Amsterdam)

Bathsheba at Her Bath

1654
Oil on canvas, 142 x 142 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The story of David and Bathsheba is in the Bible (II Sam. 11 :2-17). One evening while he walked on the roof of his palace David saw below him a beautiful woman bathing. This was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite who was then away on service in David's army. In an act of seignorial arrogance he had her brought to the palace and made love to her. She became pregnant as a consequence. Later he wrote to Uriah's army commander saying, 'Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle . . . that he may be smitten and die.' This indeed came about and David afterwards married Bathsheba. The child survived only a few days. David subsequently did penance.

Bathsheba is usually depicted at her toilet in various states of nudity. Earlier Renaissance artists show her clothed and merely washing her hands or feet, helped by attendants. Sometimes a messenger is shown arriving with a letter, though the Bible does not record this detail. David's morally indefensible conduct did not deter the medieval Church from drawing a typological parallel: he prefigured Christ and Bathsheba the Church.

Rembrandt's painting shows Bathseba as she receives the message of King David summoning her. The sculpture-like position of the woman is inspired by antique reliefs.