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Bathsheba, late 1660s

Jan Steen
Dutch, c.1626-1679
Oil on panel
15 x 12-1/2 in. (38.1 x 31.8 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

Known for his paintings of boisterous genre scenes with moralizing overtones, and religious subjects set in contemporary domestic interiors, Jan Steen represents here the beguiling Bathsheba as a fashionable young woman. The Biblical source for this subject is ii Samuel 11:2–4. Through the window in the upper left, king David is seen upon a terrace, watching as an old woman delivers his love letter. The letter begins “Liefe minne…,”
(“sweet love…”).

This painting is perhaps the most subdued of the three by Steen on display. However the theatrical leitmotif, as well as its narrative on human nature and misjudgement, are ever present in all of Steen’s pictures. His works have the appearance of being casually composed, yet their careful structure is designed to lead the eye through the story. Here, the angle of Bathsheba’s hand and pointed finger leads in a straight line that extends along David’s balcony wall to the top left corner of the composition, and emphasizes that she looks not toward the letter, but to its author.

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