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Course: Europe 1300 - 1800 > Unit 9

Lesson 4: Dutch Republic

Rembrandt, Bathsheba at her Bath

Rembrandt van Rijn, Bathsheba at Her Bath, 1654, oil on canvas, 56 x 56 in (142 x 142 cm) , Musée du Louvre, Paris Speakers: Drs. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

[piano music] We're at the Louvre and we're looking at Rembrandt's "Bathsheba". It's a large canvas and it's almost square. I think the nude is actually life-sized. "Bathsheba" is a story from the Old Testament. King David sees her bathing from his terrace and is struck by her beauty, and summons her even though she is the wife of a general... Uriah... They begin an illicit, adulterous affair that ends in tragedy with Uriah being sent by David into battle to certain death and David and Bathsheba have a stillborn child. She's ultimately an outcast. I think we see that this is the first step in a terrible tragedy written on Bathsheba's face. This is a really interesting painting in that you have Rembrandt lavishing tremendous attention to the beauty of her body, but at the same time this is really a painting that's about psychology. It's about this moment of contemplation as she readies herself and there's a degree of sadness and perhaps some interest in the illicit as well. Rembrandt is often showing us people's emotion, their vulnerability, he's often showing us people in a contemplative moment and that's what we see here with Bathsheba. She seems to be contemplating the future, she holds the letter in her hand, she moves her left hand back and exposes her body to us, and you're right, there's that sense of the sensuality of her body and David's desire for her implicit in our own gaze at her body, but at the same time a real consciousness of what this means for her, that she will commit a sin and that she will pay for that sin. There does seem to be real foreboding and it's not simply from the dark, warm colors of this painting, but it really has to do with the tilt of her head, her gaze is downward, the lids of her eyes are low, and it has to do with the softness and, as you said, the vulnerability of the face and the relaxed muscles of the face. We have that dark background that we often see in Rembrandt's work. Typical of the Baroque... But at the same time really warm colors - golds and yellows and reds and oranges... It's almost Venetian in those colors... And she's very close to us. There really is no background. We get a bit of a sense of a bed in the background... the servant at the bottom washing or drying her feet... that typical Rembrandt painterliness in the white sheet at the right corner. She takes up the space of the painting and her emotions take up the space of the painting, too. I'm struck by the subtlety of the color and of the brushwork. The brushwork is most evident in that white sheet that she has her hand on and that surrounds her and it's really playful and energetic. The quality of her flesh is really beautiful also. Look at those subtle whites and pinks and greens and warm tones against cool and the ways in which her skeletal structure and her flesh, the fat in her body, are all so tenderly rendered. The figure of Bathsheba is modeled on Rembrandt's own female companion, Hendrikje, and I'm struck by how she's not an idealized classical nude. She's a real person and that also strikes me as very Baroque and very Rembrandt - this interest in the 'real'... Although there is some distance. It's somewhat Orientalized. There's the distance of this being Biblical history so it's not as if she's a modern nude. No, he's transformed her... He's based her on a real person. And that sense of the reality of the figure is still present, I agree. [piano music]