This work is one of the highlights of the Louvre in Paris. We see a young beauty bathing naked. She has just read a letter and is in doubt. Should she obey the king’s command to spend the night with him, or should she remain faithful to her husband?
If an artist wanted to portray drama, he would normally do so with big gestures: looking up in alarm, waving arms, movement and theatre. That is what we expect as viewers. But how do you portray inner turmoil? How do you show pure human doubt? Rembrandt was confronted by these questions when he painted the decisive moment in the life of this introverted, beautiful bathing woman.
Told in another wayRembrandt probably used his lover Hendrickje Stoffels as a model. It is remarkable that Rembrandt shows her earthly, natural beauty. Nowadays, we would say that he did not photoshop her, but let her natural beauty shine through instead. Rembrandt often painted biblical scenes. However, especially in his latter years, he used compositions and moments from biblical stories that were different to the ones commonly used. Like a director, he thought about how to tell a story in the most beautiful and arresting way possible. And in doing so, he used some remarkably modern techniques for drawing us, the viewers, into the story.
Inner turmoil takes place on the inside. How do you paint that?
In a darkened room, Bathsheba’s feet are washed by a serving girl. A pillar in the background suggests an edifice, probably the palace of King David. Rembrandt places the focus on Bathsheba’s body and expression. We see Bathsheba lost in thought, introverted and in mental anguish. Should she obey the king’s command or should she remain faithful to her husband?
Letter from the king
Should she listen to the king and sleep with him or remain faithful to her husband?
Rembrandt does not idealise Bathsheba’s body, but rather shows her earthly beauty.
This story is usually told by making Bathsheba look startled, as seen on this work by Rubens. But Rembrandt shows the woman’s inner turmoil instead.
Over het schilderij
- Bathsheba with King David’s letter (1654)
- Canvas 142 x 142 cm
- Musée du Louvre, Paris
On display at the ‘Late Rembrandt’ exhibition will be more than a hundred works created during the last phase of Rembrandt’s life. To get you in the mood, here are twelve works included in this spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.
Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph, 1656
When painting this Biblical story about Jacob, Rembrandt chose an unexpected moment that must have been a surprising choice for viewers of his day.Read more
Self Portrait with Two Circles, ca. 1665-1669
Rembrandt made many self-portraits during his career. What makes this one so notable is his ruthless honesty in portraying himself.Read more
The Jewish Bride, ca. 1665
What you immediately notice about this large painting is Rembrandt’s rough application of paint. In this work, Rembrandt broke with all conventions of the day by smeering on and scratching through the paint.Read more
A Woman bathing in a Stream, 1654
Here we see an alluring woman wading through the water while slowly lifting the hem of her dress. But who is this beauty?Read more
The Family Portrait, ca. 1665
‘The Family Portrait’ has not travelled since 1956. Just for this once, it is on loan to the Rijksmuseum especially for this exhibtion.Read more
Recumbent Lion, ca. 1660-1665
Rembrandt preferred to draw lifelike representations of things he saw around him in real life. This lion is a good example.Read more
A Young Woman sleeping, ca. 1654
This drawing of a woman taking a quick nap is very typical of Rembrandt: an artist who was always recording the little scenes in his everyday life.Read more
Titus at his Desk, 1655
Rembrandt made clever use of painting techniques to evoke a sense of endearment when viewing this work in which we can recognise his own son.Read more
The Syndics, 1662
A meeting of five important inspectors of the Amsterdam drapers’ guild behind a table. Rembrandt turned this meeting into a visually exciting scene.Read more
The conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis, ca. 1661-1662
In this painting, Rembrandt made use of a clever and entirely new technique to tell a story.Read more
Portrait of Frederick Rihel on Horseback, ca. 1663
As an artist, Rembrandt was familiar with the rules of portraiture but he pushed the boundaries whenever possible.Read more
Bathsheba with King David’s Letter, 1654
This is one of the most famous paintings hanging in Louvre. Here we see a beautiful young woman bathing. She has just read a letter and now finds herself in a dilemma.Read more