Monday, June 8, 2009

Bathsheba and David

Bathsheba was the beautiful wife of Uriah a Hittite mercenary in the service of King David. While her husband was in the field fighting the Ammonites, Bathsheba was watched by David from the rooftop of his palace how she was taking her ritual bath. Impressed by her beauty the king immediately ordered her to come to his palace.

When Bathsheba later became pregnant David summoned Uriah from the army in the hope that he would sleep with his wife and think the child was his own. But because there was an ancient rule that officers shouldn’t sleep with their women while the troops remained in the field, Uriah stayed with the palace troops.

Unable to resolve the problem this way David sent Uriah back to the army with a secret letter for his commanding general. In this letter David ordered that Uriah should be abandoned in the battle, so that he would be killed by the enemy. And so it happened.

Later the child of Bathsheba and David died because it was the result of a sin (always the wrong have to pay). But anyhow Bathsheba became queen and hat another child of David, the later mighty King Salomon.

It’s clear that David is a sinner. He betrayed a true soldier and sent him into death only to satisfy his lust. Not so easy to judge is the role of Bathsheba. Sure she had to obey the king. But there is to suspect that she wanted to be watched by David while she was bathing, that finally she seduced him and not vice versa. And if we are viewing the paintings about that story it’s easy to see that many artists had the same opinion.

This is a late medieval book illumination by the French painter Jean Bourdichon (1457-1521). It already shows the characteristics of the typical Bathsheba paintings: a naked woman bathing and King David (with the crown) on his balcony.

Anytime when you will see in a museum a naked bather and somebody on a rooftop or a balcony watching it’s probably Bathsheba.

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