Social History of Art


16th Italy

Giulio Romano, Bathsheba at Her Toilette, Garden Loggia, Palazzo del Te, Mantua

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Giulio Romano, Bathsheba at Her Toilette, Garden Loggia, Palazzo del Te, Mantua
The Old Testament figure of Bathsheba never primped before a mirror until this painting. The setting is borrowed from the pagan imagery of Venus at the Mirror, already popular among Italian rulers and noblemen. Set in a lush courtly garden, the fresco plays on the real garden just outside this loggia where Federico II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, dallied with his real mistress. The courtly theme of the love garden is repeated in a fresco on the same loggia ceiling which depicts King David spying on Bathsheba (next slide in the Art Gallery). The villa as a whole was heavily decorated with erotic mythological scenes painted by the same artist. So it comes as no surprise to find Romano introducing courtly erotic values even in this Old Testament scene. The theme of sensual beauty is tripled in the many nymph-like attendants. Thirty years earlier, Mantegna had already moved Samson and Delilah into a courtly love garden for Federico's II father. But that painting still retained a strong moralizing flavor consistent with the Biblical fable about the downfall of a great man through sensuality. Romano's painting ignores all such Biblical morality - despite the great sins committed by King David in murdering Bathsheba's husband and ordering her into his bed. No such Christian morality disturbs this erotic courtly idyll. This painting set the tone for later Renaissance images of the same subject by Veronese and others.
Posted by Robert Baldwin on October 9, 2011 Full Size| Slideshow