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HERRI MET DE BLES

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THE STORY OF DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, ABOUT 1535-1540

About the Artwork

Tucked into this rich landscape are several episodes from the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel). In the arched window at the upper right, King David, wearing a crown and holding a scepter, watches Bathsheba bathing in the pool at the opposite corner of the painting. On the terrace below, David appears again. He hands to Bathsheba’s husband Uriah a letter sending him to his eventual death.

This Biblical episode concerned with illicit love and flirtation has been set in a sixteenth-century park equally redolent of courtly love. An elaborate Renaissance palace overlooks a pleasure garden peopled with aristocrats, courtiers, and jesters. Spectators watch a game of court tennis in a walled enclosure in the foreground. In the middle distance is a topiary maze; beyond, deer are being hunted. A vibrant seaport is nestled under the distant mountains. The very complexity of this courtly landscape compels attention. Our eyes wander through the scene, searching out curious and delightful incidents. The minuteness of the details challenges us to identify the biblical narrative. Rather than overwhelming the story of David and Bathsheba, the landscape setting reinforces its significance.

Source: Alan Chong, "Landscape with David and Bathsheba," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 137.

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