Bathsheba Goes to King David, 1552-1554, Fresco, Cecchino del Salviati (1510-1563)

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Related post B Proper 12, Art for July 29, 2012

As a young man, Francisco de’Rossi (before taking the name Cecchino del Salviati), studied with several artists in Florence, the city of his birth. Among his teachers was Andrea del Sarto, whose skills were so highly regarded he was called, “the faultless painter.” After two years in del Sarto’s studio, de’Rossi’s left to work on an unfinished fresco at the palace of Cardinal Giovanni Salviati in Rome and through his connections, further commissions were received. While there, he also determined it would be a good career move to take his patron’s surname as his own. Now, in addition to the name, Cecchino del Salviati, he continues to be known by his given name, Francisco de’Rossi, as well as Francisco Salviati and Il Salviati.

As the classicism of the Renaissance waned, Mannerist characteristics increased. In painting, sculpture, and architecture of this period there was frequently novelty, artificiality, discrepancy in scale, and linear movement (Vasari referred to this as a “serpentine line”). Also, in many Mannerist works there was a manipulation of pictorial space. Instead of staying with the exactness of Renaissance perspective, they modified space and often made it ambiguous; at times, a viewer is unable to determine what the artist was intending. In his paintings, Salviati used many of these Mannerist devices; note particularly the background, curvilinear staircase, and Bathsheba’s melodramatic pose in Bathsheba Goes to King David

This painting of Bathsheba is one of the frescos based on the life of King David painted by Salviati at the Palazzo Sacchetti in Rome. The presentation of this story, however, differs from the usual paintings of Bathsheba. In a typical painting, Bathsheba is bathing while King David is ogling her from the rooftop of his palace. Often, the primary focus is on a voluptuous Bathsheba at her bath. Salviati moves this story forward to the time she has come to the palace to see David. It is a rather unusual painting in that Salviati presents us with a look at Bathsheba from both back and front as she pauses before ascending the stairs. In the lower right corner of this painting we see her from the back; her fingers are lifting a portion of her dress coquettishly. Her left hand is holding her outer garment and she is turning her head to the left. Next we see her again at the foot of a spiral staircase. Bathsheba is now in the same pose but we see her from an opposite point of view; from the front we are shown she is wearing a diaphanous dress. At the top of the stairs King David is in a toga and finally the sequence ends in the shadow of David’s chamber where we are given a glimpse of the couple embracing.

Note

Venus, Bathsheba and Odalisque: In art, the portrayal of Venus was not to be seen in medieval art; Mary was the image venerated during those years. During the Renaissance, Mary continued to be honored but Venus made a comeback. Not only did artists paint scenes of the dalliances of Venus and other goddesses but the Bible also became a source of titillating subjects such as Bathsheba. Later, in the nineteenth century, the romanticists were enamored with the exotic Near East and in art the odalisque (harem woman) replaced Venus as one of the favorite subjects.

Color: When black pigment is added to a color it is called a “shade.” When white pigment is added it becomes a “tint.” When water based paints are absorbed into wet plaster (as when painting a fresco) the white of the plaster combines with the pigment and this makes its color a little lighter; it becomes, in effect, a “tint.” Also it decreases the saturation (intensity) of the colors, thus frescos tend to be soft in tone.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

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