Francis van Bossuit, The Toilet of Bathsheba, Dutch, c. 1680-90
This beautiful sculpture was carved by Francis van Bossuit (1635-1692), probably in Amsterdam, at the end of the seventeenth century. The carving is in exceptionally high relief, making full use of the curve of the ivory tusk. It depicts The Toilet of Bathsheba, a scene from the Old Testament (Second Book of Samuel) in which Kind David, seen in the background upon the roof of his palace, spied on and fell in love with Bathsheba, wife of his general. The carver highlighted the erotic element of the story. She is shown after she has emerged from the bath. Her body is sensuously modelled. Bathsheba’s maid braids her hair whereas the old woman sent by David presents her with a casket full of jewellery and whispers an offer into her ear.
The piece is significant, both due to its artistic value and its provenance. It is a well-documented object because it has always been regarded as an important work by Van Bossuit, who specialised in ivory. He was a prolific and popular artist, highly praised by his contemporaries. His work was further popularised in engravings by Matthijs Pool published in Amsterdam in 1727. This publication included the illustration of the Bathsheba, followed by an analogical relief composition, showing another erotic Old Testament subject: Susanna and the Elders. The original ivory sculpture is in the Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. The reliefs are thought to be a pair and are recorded together in the collection of Petronella de la Court (1624-1707) in Amsterdam. She was an important art collector and Van Bossuit’s major patron. After her death both pieces were sold to different buyers. They were reunited before 1783 when they were sold at an auction that also included Frans Hals’s celebrated painting The Laughing Cavalier, today one of the highlights of the Wallace Collection. Interestingly, the picture was sold for 247 guilders, whereas Van Bossuit’s ivory panels reached 710 guilders (the Susanna) and 610 guilders (the Bathsheba). At the end of the eighteenth century the reliefs were separated for good, the Bathsheba finding its way into the Wallace Collection.
Wednesday 2 and Thursday 24 August at 1 pm with Ada de Wit, Assistant Curator.
J. Warren, ‘Bathseba and Susanna. The Ivory Reliefs by Francis van Bossuit’, Festschrift für Christian Theuerkauff Barocke Kunststückh / Sculpture Studies in Honour of Christian Theuerkauff, München 2011, pp. 66-72