Bathsheba with King David's letter

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn • Painting, 1654, 142×142 cm
Digital copy: 8.0 MB
2992 × 3000 px • JPEG
35.3 × 35.3 cm • 215 dpi
50.7 × 50.8 cm • 150 dpi
25.3 × 25.4 cm • 300 dpi
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About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Nude, Literary scene
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1654
Size: 142×142 cm
Artwork in selections: 41 selections
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Exhibitions history

Description of the artwork «Bathsheba with King David's letter»

"The miracle of" Bathsheba "by Rembrandt, the naked body, to which thought is allowed, never happens again"- wrote the famous art historian Kenneth Clark. He knew what he was talking about: the author of an extensive study of “Nudity in Art,” Clark had someone to compare Rembrand's heroine. However, it is the Louvre “Bathsheba” that he calls one of the greatest paintings depicting nudes in history. Thousands of artists wrote naked female flesh - Rembrandt is almost the only (or, let's be careful, one of the few) who managed to inspire it. From the object of lust and the “vessel of sin” the naked body is transformed by Rembrandt into an object of sympathy and spectator participation.


The second book of Kings (11: 2-4) tells about King David, who, walking along the roof of his palace, saw a nude woman downstairs in a bathhouse. She washed, or, in high fashion, “made the toilet” and awakened in David an immediate desire to possess it. David asked the servants who she was. They answered him: Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, and wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of your most valiant warriors. This did not embarrass the king: he ordered Bathsheba to be brought to his chambers and slept with her, and when she became pregnant, he sent her husband Uriah to certain death.

"Toilet of Bathsheba" - the plot in art is common, with its established canons. Usually, Bathsheba was depicted at the moment of ablution, surrounded by one or several maidservants, and somewhere in the distance, on high and in the dark, could be peeping David. Young Rembrandt 20 years ago and treated this story in a similar way: now his early"Toilet of Bathsheba" located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But the mature "Bathsheba" by Rembrandt draws not this, traditionally depicted, but a completely different moment, for which there is no place in the Bible, but which is easily reconstructed from the logic of the narration. Bathsheba retired to the pool with a letter from King David. She is pregnant, she knows that she is not faithful to her husband, and for this she is stoned in her world, and she is in love. Rembrandt gives her face a dreamy expression - an expression, as Clark writes, “So complicated that we leave, following her thoughts, far beyond the limits of the moment captured.”

Studies of the canvas show that initially it had a more elongated format: Rembrandt cut it about 10 centimeters to the left and at least 20 in height. He sought to reduce the canvas, in order to increase the impact of the figure on the viewer, and the X-ray shows that he also inclined his head to Bathsheba, making her look not only dreamy, but also dejected. Rejecting all previous tradition (including even his idol Rubens), depicting Bathsheba a yoke, Rembrandt shows her sufferers.


The proportions of Bathsheba themselves are, of course, far from the classic designs. As, however, other Rembrandt women are far from them - regardless of whether they are dressed or naked. Kenneth Clark explains this Rembrandt's desire to write women's bodies that traditional aesthetics cannot call beautiful, its peculiar honesty: "We feel the value of Rembrandt's modest and meticulous honesty, because this big belly, these heavy, working hands and feet have a much greater generosity than the ideal form, say,"Venus of Urbinsk" Titian.

One who is familiar withthe love biography of Rembrandt and his female portraits, of course, easily recognize in his Louvre Bathsheba another woman - Hendrickje StoffelsRembrandt's last sweetheart. A young pretty girl from a soldier’s family came to the housekeeper for a bankrupt artist who was 20 years older than her and stayed in his house forever, sharing with Rembrandt all the hardships of the last years of his life. She knew that Rembrandt would never marry her, for she was bound by the testament of Saskia, his late wife. She tried not to notice how they whisper behind her back, calling her bedding and a fallen woman for living in an unmarried marriage with an artist. She replaced the mother with Rembrandt’s son Titus. She helped Rembrandt to preserve the remnants of wealth and dignity. Being pregnant, she survived the shameful trial, denouncing her for her relationship with Rembrandt. Hendrickje Stoffels not only donated to Bathsheba smooth shape of his body, but in general terms repeated her act and her story. So, of course, the Louvre painting had a deeply intimate subtext for Rembrandt.

Anna Yesterday