This is a scene from a story in the Old Testament. The naked woman is Bathsheba. She has just finished bathing, unaware that she has been spotted by King David, who is standing on the roof of his palace at the top right of the picture. According to the Bible, David was so besotted with Bathsheba’s beauty that he seduced her and then ordered her husband Uriah into the forefront of a battle. Uriah was soon killed, and David proceeded to take Bathsheba as his wife.
As an unwitting temptress, Bathsheba was a popular figure in art history. Her story provided a good excuse to make pictures like this, which – thinly disguised as a religious painting – depicts a voluptuous nude in an unguarded moment. Although the style is reminiscent of Giordano, it is more likely to be by an imitator working after his death.
This is a scene from a famous story in the Old Testament of the Bible. At the centre of the painting sits a naked woman, the curves of her body highlighted by the low, dramatic light shining from the left. She is Bathsheba, the wife of a soldier named Uriah. She has just finished bathing and is now lolling on a bench while considering how to dress herself. One hand toys with her curly hair, while the other reaches for the jewel box presented to her by her maid. Three more attendants proffer ribbons for her hair, and all eyes are fixed on her reaction.
But it isn’t only her maids who are focused so intently on their mistress. In the shadows at the top right of the picture another figure is looking down at the scene from the roof of a high building. This is King David. As a boy he had killed the giant Goliath armed only with a sling, and had gone on to conquer Jerusalem and become King of Israel.
David already had several wives, but this painting illustrates the infamous moment when he was walking on his palace roof in Jerusalem and spotted Bathsheba bathing. He was so taken by her beauty that he ordered Bathsheba to come to him and seduced her. A single seduction wasn’t enough, however. David became so besotted that he devised a plan to get rid of Uriah, ordering him into the forefront ‘of the hottest battle’ (2 Samuel 11: 15). Inevitably Uriah was killed, and David married Bathsheba who was, by then, pregnant by him. But, as the Bible puts it – and perhaps not surprisingly – ‘the thing that David had done displeased the Lord’ (2 Samuel 11: 27). God intervened and ensured that their first son fell ill and died. Nevertheless, Bathsheba soon became pregnant again and had another son, Solomon, whom David nominated as his successor.
Bathsheba has long been seen as a complicated figure. She was seduced and her husband effectively murdered, but she became the wife of one of the great kings of the Old Testament and the mother of another. She was also an unwitting temptress, and as such was a popular figure in art history. It seems to be this aspect of her story which appealed to the artist here. She provided a good excuse for a picture – thinly disguised as a religious painting – that depicts a voluptuous nude in an unguarded moment.
It is not known who made this painting. Although the style and palette are somewhat reminiscent of the seventeenth-century Neapolitan painter Giordano, it is more likely to be by an imitator working after the artist’s death, perhaps during the eighteenth century and possibly in Rome rather than Naples.
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