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Work Bathsheba at Her Bath

Department of Paintings: Dutch painting

Bathsheba at Her Bath

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
Dutch painting

Author(s):

Adeline Collange

Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, a general of King David's army. The king, upon seeing Bathsheba bathing, had her summoned, and led her into adultery. In this, one of his major works, the artist focuses his representation of the episode on Bathesheba at her bath. She is portrayed deeply disturbed by the royal message. David is absent here, but can be seen in the painting by Jan Massys (INV. 1446) Room 11.

A biblical episode

A nude young woman is sitting on pure white drapery, a letter in her hand. She appears to be lost in thought, as an elderly maidservant with an Oriental-style headdress washes her feet. The young woman is the beautiful Bathsheba. King David had seen her bathing from the terrace of his palace, and fallen passionately in love with her. He summoned her with a letter, before sending her husband, the general Uriah, to certain death in battle. God later punished this illicit liaison: the adulterous couple's firstborn son would perish. Unlike many other painters (such as Jan Massys), Rembrandt chose to focus on Bathsheba's reaction to the royal summons; he did not portray David's desire, nor any other anecdotal detail. The result is psychologically powerful and profoundly moving.

Sadness and sensuality

Rembrandt painted Bathsheba from a live model. The opulence of this life size nude is exceptional in the master's work: the nakedness of a beloved body, each fold of its triumphant flesh lovingly detailed, its eroticism highlighted by the fine transparent drapery and delicately worked jewelry. This open sensuality (the cause of imminent sin) contrasts with the young woman's air of profound sadness. The position of the head with its idealized profile was carefully planned: we know from the X ray of the painting that Rembrandt had first painted the face raised skyward — a less judicious choice than this gentle incline. Much of the charm of the painting resides in the tension of the character of Bathsheba, who gazes resignedly into space, sadly accepting her fate.

Venetian gold

The warm harmony of the painting, in tones of gold and copper, was inspired by great Venetian painters such as Titian and Veronese. Rembrandt's skill in depicting light was at its height in this becalmed, mature work. The mellow chiaroscuro, intended to highlight the body of Bathsheba, also creates a dramatic effect. The gold brocade cloth in the background and the dazzling white of the linen provide a luminous setting for the touching, alluring female nudity. The chromatic richness and psychological subtlety of this Bathsheba make the painting one of Rembrandt's greatest masterpieces.

Bibliography

Le Siècle de Rembrandt : tableaux hollandais des collections publiques françaises, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1970, p. 181-182.
Foucart Jacques, Les Peintures de Rembrandt au Louvre, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1982, p. 54-62.
Partsch Susanna, Rembrandt, sa vie, son oeuvre, Weert, 1991, p. 161.
 

Technical description

  • Rembrandt Harmensz. VAN RIJN, known as REMBRANDT

    Bathsheba at Her Bath

    1654

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 1.42 m; W. 1.42 m

  • Dr. Louis La Caze bequest, 1869

    M.I. 957

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Rembrandt
    Room 31

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