Bathsheba by Rembrandt
Finally we have one of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings which is Bathsheba where the feminine form is most certainly idealized in more ways than one. Again the aesthetic qualities of the subject are clearly idealized here with emphasis on the nudity of the woman and her plump beauty in this respect which comes to the fore especially with the dark background and intrinsic subject matter.
One of his famous paintings is Bathsheba at her bath that was completed in 1654. The painting captures a moment from the Old Testament narrative in which King David sights Bathsheba having a bath. He proceeds to spell bound, seduce and makes her pregnant. Bathsheba’s husband is then sent to war by David and is put on the frontline. His generals desert him, exposing him to certain death. Previous artists had painted the scene of David observing Bathsheba but Rembrandt’s portrayal differs in its strong illustrative focus and erotic strength, made possible owing to wide, thick brushstrokes and use of lively colors. A description of how King David saw a lady bathing from taking a bath from his palace roof is found in the Second Book of Samuel (11:2-4). David inquires about her and is told that she’s Bathsheba, wife if Uriah and daughter of Eliam. David sends for her and impregnates her, He then marries Bathsheba after sending her husband to war where he was killed.
Before this painting, the normal treatment had been to depict Bathsheba taking a bath outdoors- as a result making her visible to King David- and escorted by servants. A tower could usually be spotted in the backdrop, and possibly a small figure of David. Rembrandts previous work, “The Toilet of Bathsheba” followed these outlines. Rembrandt’s depiction of Bathsheba is both intimate and immense achieved through getting rid of David, his couriers and the majority of the customary elements from the picture. The only indications are the letter from David (not stated in the book of Samuel) and the existence of a maid drying her foot. Thus, the moralistic theme of earlier treatments of the s subject matter is restored by a direct eroticism in which David is perceived as having a fetish by the observer. (Lewis and Susan, 1995) The work is done as life size with Bathsheba standing out than in earlier versions. The painting is unusual in many ways. Bathsheba is depicted in a space that is hard to read. The dark backdrop is indicative of night, and at the same time an enormous column implies a large structural design. Around her, lies a thickly painted backdrop positioned upon her naked body. Her nude body is prominent for its solid form and the extravagant use of paint. The paint used to depict her figure is richly shaded while its thick brushstrokes and strong highlights gives an exciting, physical quality making her presence conspicuous. In spite of its classical references, the description of the figure is unconventional, and the portrayal of her large stomach, hands and feet are as a result of observation rather than admiration for the idealized form.
Ackley, Clifford, et al., Rembrandt's Journey. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2004.
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