Bathsheba is shown at her toilet, tended by two servants, while King David gazes at her from the palace balcony. David later sent Bathsheba's husband Uriah into battle to be killed so that he might marry her. The picture, among Chiari's finest, is based on a work painted by his teacher Carlo Maratta for marchese Niccolò Maria Pallavicini. Chiari has introduced a number of motifs, such as the gesture of Bathsheba arranging her hair, that subtly transform Maratta's vigorous style into the refined, Rococo sensibilities of the eighteenth century.
The Artist: Early biographers give Chiari’s birthplace as either Lucca or Rome, but it is certain that he spent most if not all of his life in Rome. According to Lione Pascoli (Vite de Pittori, scultori, et architetti moderni, Rome, vol. 1, 1730, pp. 209–17), Chiari entered the studio of the celebrated Roman painter Carlo Maratti (1625–1713) at the age of twelve, after a short apprenticeship with the painter and art dealer Carlantonio Galliani. Maratti was an important and influential proponent of the classical tradition that began with Raphael. Chiari remained closely associated with Maratti until the latter’s death and was faithful to his master’s classicism, although his style was sweeter and more refined. As a prized assistant, he produced fine replicas and variants of Maratti's work for the market. His earliest independent commission (ca. 1683–84) was for paintings on the side walls of a chapel in Santa Maria del Suffragio, and their success led to patronage by many of the important local families and foreign visitors to Rome. Later, Pope Clement XI (r. 1700–1721) became a major patron, commissioning a ceiling painting depicting the glory of Saint Clement for the church of San Clemente (ca. 1715) and one of twelve nave paintings of old testament prophets for San Giovanni in Laterano (ca. 1718), among other important works. From 1722 until 1725 Chiari held the prestigious position of Principe of the Accademia di S. Luca. Lione states that Chiari’s final painting was a Holy Family in the church of Santa Maria alle Fornaci, and that he died on September 8, 1727, and is buried in Santa Susanna.
The Painting: The Biblical story of Bathsheba and King David is recounted in 2 Samuel 11. David spied the beautiful Bathsheba from the roof of his palace as she bathed. Although she was married, he seduced her and she became pregnant. David later had her husband, Uriah, killed in battle and made Bathsheba his wife. Although God punished David for his acts with the death of their first child, their subsequent son Solomon eventually succeeded his father as king.
Chiari shows Bathsheba at her bath, arranging her hair; one attendant holds a mirror and the other dries her mistress’ feet. King David looks on from the balcony of his palace. The Met’s picture was formerly (Clark 1970, Spike 1980, Röttgen 1988) discussed as a variant of a painting Maratti made for the Prince of Liechtenstein in 1693 (Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna), but it is in fact based on a second painting of the subject by Maratti, made for marchese Niccolò Maria Pallavicini, which came to light when it was sold at auction in 1990 (Christie’s, London, April 9, 1990, lot 66A; see Additional Images, fig. 1). One of a pair (with The Angel Appearing to Hagar in the Wilderness), the Maratti is an oval, but very close in size to the Chiari. Although the two compositions are similar, the figure of David seems more intent in the Chiari, the kneeling attendant gazes at her mistress rather than at her fellow servant holding the mirror, and Chiari has upended the vessel presumably used to fill the basin in which Bathsheba bathes. Bathsheba’s action with her hair also changes: instead of drawing a comb through her long golden tresses, as in the Maratti, she braids a blue ribbon into a more intricate hairdo. Spike (1980) identified a drawing in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, as a preliminary study for the figure of Bathsheba in The Met’s picture, where the artist is working out the position of her hands and arms. Another version of the composition by Chiari was sold at Sotheby's, London, December 4, 2014, no. 205 (oil on canvas, 51 x 38 1/2 in.; see Additional Images, fig. 2). Since, like the Maratti, it is an oval, it may have preceded The Met’s painting. Other details, such as the upright water vessel, are also closer to the Maratti.
Spike dated The Met’s painting to the last decade of the seventeenth century, from about the same time as Maratti’s Liechtenstein picture. Johns (2000) suggested a date of about 1700, but noted that any more specific dating is difficult, adding that the style here—the pale colors and refined, soft brushstrokes, along with the facial type of the standing attendant and the delicate languor of Bathsheba—is also seen in later works by Chiari. Until recently, the ownership history prior to the mid-twentieth century was unknown, but Burton Fredericksen has identified the work with one in several late eighteenth-century sales, including that of the comte de Merle, Paris, in 1784 (see Provenance).
[Gretchen Wold 2016]
Charles Louis de Beauchamp, comte de Merle (until 1784; his sale, A. J. Paillet, Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, March 1, 1784, no. 2, as "Betzabé sortant du bain," by Carlo Maratti, 50 x 42 pouces, for 6,720 livres to Paillet); sale, Christie's, London, April 30, 1785, no. 59, as "Bethsheba bathing," by Maratti, for £262.10 to Baillie; sale, Alexandre Joseph Paillet & Hypolite Delaroche, Paris, May 30, 1799, no. 8, as no. 2 in the Merle sale; [Eduardo Moratilla, Paris, until 1952/53]; Mario Modestini, New York (1952/53–1993)
Art Museum, Princeton University. "Italian Baroque Paintings from New York Private Collections," April 27–September 7, 1980, no. 14.
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. "Guido Reni und Europa: Ruhm und Nachruhm," December 2, 1988–February 26, 1989, no. D30.
Bernhard Kerber. "Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari." Art Bulletin 50 (March 1968), p. 80, as discovered in a private collection in Florence in 1960 by A. M. Clark.
Anthony M. Clark inPainting in Italy in the Eighteenth Century: Rococo to Romanticism. Ed. John Maxon and Joseph J. Rishel. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, 1970, p. 190, refers to it as a "Chiari-like variant" of Maratti's Bathsheba in the Liechtenstein collection; locates it in the Modestini collection, New York.
John T. Spike. Italian Baroque Paintings from New York Private Collections. Exh. cat., Art Museum, Princeton University. Princeton, 1980, pp. 6, 43–45, no. 14, ill., dates it to the last decade of the seventeenth century and gives it to Chiari, noting that Manuela Mena first made this attribution; observes that the composition derives from and reverses that of Maratti's painting of the subject in the Liechtenstein Gallery, which he believes is contemporaneous with this depiction; notes that an early study for the MMA painting (fig. 7) is in the National Gallery of Scotland.
Steffi Röttgen inGuido Reni und Europa: Ruhm und Nachruhm. Ed. Sybille Ebert-Schifferer, Andrea Emiliani, and Erich Schleier. Exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. Frankfurt, 1988, pp. 606–7, no. D30, ill. (color), states that it derives from Carlo Maratti's painting of the subject made for the Prince of Liechtenstein in 1693.
Old Master Pictures. Christie's, London. April 9, 1990, p. 105, under no. 66A, notes that this painting is a variant of a Bathsheba by Carlo Maratti, one of a pair of ovals made for marchese Niccolò Pallavicini and in an English collection from 1758; suggests that Chiari may also have been involved in the execution of the ovals.
Mario Modestini. Letter to Andrea Bayer. February 7, 1994, comments on the painting's physical state and provenance.
Keith Christiansen in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1993–1994." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 52 (Fall 1994), pp. 34–35, ill. (color).
Christopher M. S. Johns inArt in Rome in the Eighteenth Century. Ed. Edgar Peters Bowron and Joseph J. Rishel. Exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 2000, p. 346, no. 198, ill. [dropped from exhibition], dates it about 1700; finds Chiari's interpretation of the subject "remarkably different from Maratti's prototype," observing that our passive admiration of Bathsheba's beauty replaces the sense of "dire moral consequences" in the earlier work; believes the composition is based on an engraving.
Old Master & British Paintings: Day Sale. Sotheby's, London. December 4, 2014, p. 111, under no. 205.