Van Balen depicted the most popular scene from the Old Testament story of Bathsheba: King David, who appears faintly as he leans over the balcony atop the colonnaded palace, caught sight of Uriah’s beautiful wife while she bathed, and coveted her. In keeping with the elegant, late-Mannerist style of early 17th century Flanders, Van Balen’s subject matter is used primarily as a vehicle to depict beautiful female figures. The women wear classicizing robes of bright primary colors and braided hairstyles, and the enclosed leisure garden, the late-Renaissance architecture of the palace, and the bronze fountain with nude figures reflect the taste for classical motifs in Van Balen’s time.
Although Van Balen did not depict the eventual death of Bathsheba’s husband, he hinted at the deeper message of the story by including a small dog and a chained monkey, who have no narrative function in the composition. Rather than pets, the dog symbolizes loyalty (fide) and the chained monkey symbolizes a sinful man ruled or chained by his own lust. In the present scene, Bathsheba is still loyal to Uriah while David’s lust has already taken over him, suggesting that the proper moral code will soon be upset.
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