“Bathsheba” by Sebastiano Ricci
“Bathsheba” by Sebastiano Ricci depicts the famous story from the Hebrew Bible in which Bathsheba was having a bath when King David saw her bathing and lusted after her. King David first saw Bathsheba while walking on the high roof of his palace. She was very beautiful, and he ordered enquiries about her. He found out that she was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, a soldier in David’s army. David so desired Bathsheba that he organised to meet her and later made her pregnant. The text in the Bible does not explicitly state as to whether Bathsheba consented or not.
After Bathsheba became pregnant, the king gave orders to his war general, that Bathsheba first husband, should be placed on the front lines of the battle to meet his fate. After Uriah was killed, David married Bathsheba. Bathsheba’s first child by David was struck with a severe illness and died, unnamed a few days after birth. The king accepted the baby’s death as his punishment for his sin. Later Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon, who succeeded David as king.
According to the Hebrew Bible, Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite and later of David. She is most known for the biblical narrative in which she was summoned by King David, who had seen her bathing and lusted after her. She was the mother of Solomon, who succeeded David as king, making her the Queen mother.
“Bathsheba at her Bath” is the formal name for this subject in art and usually shows Bathsheba bathing, watched by King David. Bathsheba has been a favourite subject in art, in which most depictions feature a female nude as the focus of a history painting. Sometimes Bathsheba’s maids or the messengers sent by David are shown, as happens in this painting.
In Judaism, David’s first interactions with Bathsheba are described in 2 Samuel 11 but are omitted in the Books of Chronicles. David, while walking on the roof of his palace, saw a very beautiful woman bathing. He ordered enquiries and found out that she was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. He desired her and later made her pregnant. The text in the Bible does not explicitly state whether Bathsheba consented to sex. Bathsheba later gave birth to David’s son Solomon. In David’s old age, Bathsheba secured the succession to the throne by Solomon instead of David’s elder surviving sons by his other wives. David’s punishment came to pass years later when one of David’s much-loved sons, Absalom, led a rebellion that plunged the kingdom into civil war. Moreover, to demonstrate his claim to be the new king, Absalom had sexual intercourse in public with ten of his father’s concubines. These events have been interpreted as Divine retribution for David’s taking the woman of another man in secret (2 Samuel 16:20–23).
In Christianity, “the wife of Uriah” is mentioned, in Matthew 1:6, as one of the ancestors of Jesus. Bathsheba is recognised as the archetypal example of the Queen Mother, as Bathsheba’s son, King Solomon, rises to greet her, bows down in reverence, and furnishes her a seat at his right hand. This act demonstrates Bathsheba’s elevated status in the royal kingdom. Bathsheba also acted as an intercessor for her subjects, delivering their petitions to the King.
In Islam, David is considered to be a prophet, but some Islāmic traditions view the Bible story as incompatible with the principle of the infallibility of the prophets.
Sebastiano Ricci was an Italian painter who trained in Venice and became a great travelling baroque painter. He specialised in frescos and paintings for churches and palaces, depicting biblical and mythological compositions. This painting demonstrated Ricci’s use of buildings and columns to define the background and to provide a picturesquely decorative framework for the figures grouped as if on the stage.
In 1671, he was apprenticed in Venice, however, in 1678, a youthful indiscretion led to an unwanted pregnancy, and ultimately to a greater scandal when Ricci was accused of attempting to poison the young woman to avoid marriage. He was imprisoned and released only after the intervention of a nobleman. He eventually married the mother of his child in 1691, although this was a stormy union. Following his release, he moved to Bologna, where he gained significant commissions. In 1688 Ricci abandoned his wife and daughter and fled to Turin with another woman. He was again imprisoned, and nearly executed, but was eventually freed by the intercession of the Duke of Parma who employed him.
In 1698, he returned to the Venetian republic for a decade. These works gained him fame, and many requests showed the rising influence of Venetian painting into other regions of Italy. In the summer of 1706, Ricci travelled to Florence, where he completed artworks that are by many considered his masterpieces. During his Florentine period, he completed large frescos on allegorical and mythological themes.
He also accepted patronage in London, where he completed together with and his nephew paintings depicting mythological frolics: Cupid and Jove, Bacchus meets Ariadne, Diana and Nymphs, Bacchus and Ariadne, Venus and Cupid, Diane and Endymion, and a Cupid and Flora. He was also commissioned to complete other wall-paintings depicting religious and mythological scenes.
In 1716 travelled to Paris, where he met Watteau and collaborated with the leading French artists, and he finally returned to Venice in 1718 a wealthy man. He continued his successful art career until he died in Venice in 1734.
- Are there modern day examples of this ancient story?
- Is this the story most of us remember about King David?
- How did this heritage, influence King Solomon’s famed wisdom?
Explore the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
- “Bathsheba” by Sebastiano Ricci
- “Santa Maria della Salute in Venedig vom Canal Grande” by Canaletto
- “Portrait of Jakob Muffel” by Albrecht Dürer
- “Portrait of Hieronymus Holzschuher” by Albrecht Dürer
- “Woman with a Pearl Necklace” by Johannes Vermeer
- Masterpieces of the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
- Title: Bathsheba
- Artist: Sebastiano Ricci
- Year: 1725
- Type: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: 109 cm (42.9 in); 142 cm (55.9 in)
- Museum: Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
- Artist: Sebastiano Ricci
- Born: 1659 – Belluno, Italy
- Died: 1734 – Venice
- Nationality: Italian
- Notable works:
“And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her,
and lay with her: and she bare a son,
and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him.”
Photo Credit: 1) Sebastiano Ricci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons