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Peter Paul Rubens - Bathsheba at the Fountain

by Anne Mrosowksi

The artistic work of the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens was influenced above all by an 8-year stay in Italy, through which the artist was inspired above all by Veronese and Titian. He further developed the style of the Italian Renaissance painters to a masterly peak of the Baroque. The content of his paintings was influenced by biblical and mythological themes, and he distinguished himself by a genre-spanning way of working.

With "Bathsheba at the Fountain" Rubens drew on a biblical tale from the Old Testament, according to which Bathsheba broke off her marriage with King David during her husband's absence. David watched Bathsheba bathe and had her brought to him. Because this infidelity resulted in pregnancy, David had Bathsheba's husband deceitfully killed and married Bathsheba. Rubens depicts the scene in which a black servant delivers a letter to Bathsheba from David, who in turn observes the beauty from afar from the balcony. Bathsheba leans casually against the fountain while a servant brushes her hair and receives the letter with curiosity. Her naked breast forms the eye-catcher of the painting.

The painting is characterized by a light, confident brushstroke, delicate colors and strong lighting. Rubens, who preferred to depict voluptuous blonde women, could hardly avoid depicting the nude, since almost every painter of the Baroque period devoted at least one painting to the theme of Bathsheba. The beauty was almost always depicted naked, and was observed by the lecherous David in the background. The Bathsheba is one of the late works of the Flemish painter and shows the protagonist in a particularly sensual pose. Rubens was thus obviously concerned not only with the mere reproduction of the biblical story, but also with the glorification of the feminine. The model for the preferred type of woman in Rubens' late work was his second wife Helen Fourment.

Thus, in the tale of David and Bathsheba, voyeurism, sexual desire, adultery, betrayal, power, and its abuse are foregrounded. Most importantly, the story was frequently adapted to showcase the naked body of the beautiful Bathsheba. Since David can only be seen in the distance, the recipient is elevated to the status of an actual voyeur.

Peter Paul Rubens - Bathsheba at the Fountain

Oil on oak wood, 1555, 175 x 126 cm, Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden


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