Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bathsheba with the letter from King David

I must keep myself away from her, to protect both of us from gossip. In secret I send word to Bathsheba, to let her know that I intend to take care of her. I want to do the right thing, one way or another—even though I have no idea, at first, what that may mean. What action should I take? Should I reunite her with her husband, or else take him out of the way, somehow, and make an honest woman out of her? 
Utterly baffled I close my eyes. I try not to think about the forbidden woman, not to imagine her nude—but my mind works against me. 
There she is, sitting in her bedroom, crossing one leg over another at the edge of the bed. By her side, over the richly embroidered, velvety blankets, lays her robe. It is damp and crumpled, because in my mind she has just come out of the bath. From somewhere above soft, golden light is washing over her, letting her flesh glow against the darkness. Light glances off a teardrop earring that is hanging from her earlobe.
I pay no attention to the maid, who is kneeling there before her, because she is barely seen, sunk in the shadows of my vision. Instead I focus on imagining Bathsheba. I paint her face turned from me, in profile. She is holding back a tear as my note rustles in her hand, with the whisper of my word of honor. 
By the look in her eye, she senses that which I have not yet begun to consider. With profound sadness, she can already foresee the calamity, which my promise would cause for her, and for her husband, Uriah. In my mind Bathsheba is already grieving—and yet, she seems to accept her fate, the way I would dictate it.

Willem Drost, Bathsheba with the letter from king David

Jan Steen, Bathsheba after the bath

Jan Steen, Bathsheba receiving David's letter

David yearns for bathsheba, even glorifies her at times, but at some points in the story he regards her as a 'soldier's wife', a woman with low morals who may have been with many man before him. 

This divided view of one of the most desirable women in history is reflected in the way artists have depicted her. Compare for example these dutch painters: Under the influence of Rembrandt's famous painting, Willem Drost painted a lovely, ponderous Bathsheba, holding David's letter in her hand. He paints her lovingly, and heightens the emotions that must rage in her heart, and the worries that cross her mind, knowing that there will be consequences for her and for her husband to suffer. 

On the other hand, Jan Steen ridicules Bathsheba as a cheap, bare-chested woman, eyeing you, the viewer, with a cynical look, in his painting, her attention divided between her manicure and your presence.  

Even in his more 'modest' presentation of Bathsheba, where she is a society woman properly dressed up, he continues to intervene between you and her. She turns her head, surprised to find you spying on her in this intimate moment, when David's letter is delivered to her hand.

My novel, A Peek at Bathsheba, is greatly inspired by all these pieces of art, and all these different points of view.

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