“Bathsheba at Her Bath (or Bathsheba with King David’s Letter) is an oil painting by the Dutch artist Rembrandt (1606–1669) finished in 1654.
A depiction that is both sensual and empathetic, it shows a moment from the Old Testament story in which King David sees Bathsheba bathing and, entranced, seduces and impregnates her. In order to marry Bathsheba and conceal his sin, David sends her husband into battle and orders his generals to abandon him, leaving him to certain death.
While the scene of David spying on Bathsheba had been painted by earlier artists, Rembrandt’s depiction differs in its tight pictorial focus and erotic vitality, achieved through broad, thick brushstrokes and vibrant coloration.
The painting hangs in The Louvre; it is one of 583 works donated by Dr. Louis La Caze in 1869. For Kenneth Clark, the canvas is “Rembrandt’s greatest painting of the nude”. Its insight into Bathsheba’s moral dilemma has been described as “one of the great achievements of western painting.”.”
“Along with Eve, Bathsheba was almost the only female whose nude depiction could easily and regularly be justified in Christian art, and she is therefore an important figure in the development of the nude in medieval art. Though sometimes shown clothed at other points in her story, the most common depiction, in both medieval and later art, was Bathsheba at her Bath, the formal name for the subject in art showing Bathsheba bathing, watched by King David. This could be shown with various degrees of nudity, depending on the pose and the placing of clothes or towels. One of the most common placements in the 15th century, perhaps surprisingly, was in miniatures illustrating a book of hours, a personal prayer book, that overtook the psalter as the most popular devotional book for laypeople. This was especially the case in France.
In art the subject is one of the most commonly shown in the Power of Women topos. As an opportunity to feature a large female nude as the focus of a history painting, the subject was popular from the Renaissance onwards. Sometimes Bathsheba’s maids or the “messengers” sent by David are shown, and often a distant David watching from his roof. The messengers are sometimes confused with David himself, but most artists follow the Bible in keeping David at a distance in this episode.”