top of page

Paris Bordone - Bathsheba in the bath

by Alexandra Tuschka

Well, this really looks like a stage! In the foreground we see three ladies at a fountain in front of a lemon bush. In the middle and background we see classical Roman architecture, a checkerboard pattern that creates depth and draws the eye into the distance, and on closer inspection we also discover King David sticking his head out of the palace. He is almost indispensable to the pictorial theme of Bathsheba bathing. It is no coincidence that the impression of a stage-like composition of the picture imposes itself on many visitors. At the time of the painting's creation, a theatrical pictorial language was "en vouge". The temples and palaces are taken from a book illustration that served as a model. 

In terms of time, we are on the border of the Baroque, but Bordone is completely Mannerist. Here he is still moderate with the emotions of the protagonists: the affects shown are more decipherable through body language than facial expressions. Instead, the work captivates with its clear compositional lines, strong perspective and large figures, expansive robes and a gentle coloring . 

The scene shown is a scene of seduction. Bathsheba can be quickly identified among the three women due to the obvious nudity of the sitter. The servants' submissive gestures underscore the hierarchical relationships. Otherwise, however, all three ladies can be seen quite balanced in a triangular composition. The servant on the right in the blue robe forms an optical counterweight to the bathing Bathsheba. But what we see here is ages ago! 

In 1000 BC in Jerusalem, King David caught sight of the wife of Uriah, an officer, bathing. He desired her, had her brought to him and slept with her. To cover this up, David even fetched Urias from the front and allowed him to have a shepherding session with his wife. The latter refused out of loyalty to his comrades, so that the paternity of the child born that night could no longer be covered up. Uriah fell by another trap in the field. David took Bathsheba as his fourth wife. She gave birth to the child they had together. But God saw the sin and punished them both by causing the child to die. Uriah is still recognizable here as a distant rider in the distance. He is literally "pulled" to his doom by the axes of flight.

The dichotomy experienced in the story is also made clear by the lemon tree, which symbolizes a tempting yet sour fruit. The obvious sensuality and eroticism of the foreground also contrasts with the sterile, clear middle and background. 

Bathsheba, by the way, was observed bathing in her chamber, according to the source text. The artists, however, turned her into a seductress who flaunts her bath quite publicly. Bathsheba is often found at a fountain: unabashed, and sometimes aware of the male observer, perhaps? 

Paris Bordone - Bathsheba in the bath

Oil on canvas, 1549, 234 x 217 cm, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, Germany


bottom of page