Bathseba at her bath
The first panel of this series represents Bathsheba at her bath. According to the bible, David one night decided to take a walk and he sees a lovely woman taking a bath. He informs himself who she is, and learns her identity. She is Bathsheba, the wife of the Hittite general, Uriah (Samuel 2, 11: 2-5).
A dressed Bathsheba
In the central scene here, Bathsheba is not portrayed naked but dressed washing her hands at a fountain shaped like an elaborate, late Gothic temple.
The King David
David with a crown, in the upper right section, witnesses the scene below: he has sent a messenger who kneels before the hesitant Bathsheba and gives her a note from the king: an invitation to visit him at his palace (this meeting takes place in Panel Two).
A Pre-Renaissance court
To the left, groups of elegantly dressed ladies, part of Bathsheba’s court and entourage play instruments and sing: typical supplemental figures popularly used in decorative tapestries made in Brussels, in what is known today as the Pre-Renaissance style.
The creative process
It is not known who executed the original drawings for Manuel I’s four tapestries, however, the conception and overall design of the surviving three panels is refined and elegant. A terminus post quem is provided by the costumes and headdresses of the men and women deployed in all three panels, underscoring a type of fashion used in the Netherlands before 1515 and which became outdated after this date.
There are no weaver’s marks. Probably woven in Brussels. Of extremely high quality, the weaving is very tight and opulent in the abundant use of gold thread, counting 7 to 7.5 warp threads per centimeter.
A red banner on the top border, filled with flowers and leafy branches, inscribed with gold letters and scrolls reads: BERSABEE. CORPUS. LAVAT/QUAM. EX. ADVERSO. VIDET. DAVID/ SUOS DESTINAVIT. [“Bathsheba washes [her body], David see hers and sends his servants to her.”]
Series The History of David and Bathsheba
First panel of the series
Manufacture Unknown, Brussels, 1505
Fabric Gold, silk and wool
Size 350 x 415 cm
Location Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso
Origin Collection of Manuel I of Portugal. In 1543 three tapestries were included by Catherine of Austria in the dowry of her daughter Princess Maria when she married Prince Philip of Spain. After the king’s death in 1598, recorded in a post-mortem inventory of Philip II
On display Tapestry Museum
National Heritage Inv. n. 10005827