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From art to art – how writer Uvi Poznansky found her David and Bathsheba in various paintings

Today, I am delighted to welcome Uvi Poznansky to my blog. Uvi is a person I have meet over Twitter (because yes, sometimes one actually does meet people through social media) and she is also a prolific author. One of her series is set in the times of the old testament, more specifically centred round King David and his passion for Bathsheba.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is said David spied the fair Bathsheba bathing on her roof and was overcome with hot and hard desire. he ordered her to come to him and she did. They slept together, and she conceived. Not good. So David attempted to sort this by a ruse: he recalled Bathsheba’s husband Uriah from the battlefields in Joab and suggested he go home and enjoy some downtime with his wife. Uriah refused, saying that until his lord king’s enemies were vanquished, he would not take leave. Quite the loyal man, this Uriah. David tried again to convince him to spend the night in his home with his fair wife, but when Uriah yet again said no, David sent him back to Joab, carrying isntructions to teh commander to ensure Uriah was killed on the battlefield. All in all, not an anecdote that paints David in the best of lights, is it?

Now, what I found intriguing about Uvi’s take on David et al, is that she finds her inspiration in art – in the various painted depictions of David and Bathsheba. So I invited her to visit with a guest post about just that: finding inspiration in art. I invite you to come along as Uvi presents us with the various pictures that somehow impacted how she told the story!

The David Chronicles, Inspired by Art of the Masters

The One of the most intriguing love affairs in history starts with the sentence, “One evening David got up from his bed and strolled around on the roof of the palace. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing…” This second sentence has generated more art—and more contrast between viewpoints—than any other sentence in scriptures.

Some artists use it as an excuse to portray a beautiful model ‘in the flesh’. To them, her nudity is so tempting that no wonder the king fell in love with her, for what choice did he have?

To others, she is the victim of having to comply with the whims of a powerful politician, and they portray her as a shadow, shrinking in the shadow of the king who is towering over her.

Is this affair between a king and a soldier’s wife true love, ordained by God? Or is it Lust? even decadence? The relation between David and Bathsheba is so deliciously rich and complex, as illustrated by great artistic works.

Marc Chagall said, “Will God or someone else give me the strength to breathe the breath of prayer and mourning into my paintings, the breath of prayer for redemption and resurrection?” And indeed, in his painting he expresses great devotion, a love that is meant to be. David and Bathsheba face each other, foreheads touching gently, he caresses her shoulder as if to comfort her.

Gustav Adolf Mossa (born 1883) is a French Symbolist painter. He depicts the relationship as one of decadence, and describes the lovers in French attire, almost as partners-in-crime (as her husband, Uriah, is sent to his death in a faraway land on orders of the king.) There is an age difference between the two, and their conversation is depicted as sharing a hushed secret.

Ernst Fuchs (born 1930) is an Austrian painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, architect, stage designer, poet, singer, and one of the founders of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. Here, too, David and Bathsheba face each other, they meld together in the heat of passion, David taking over nearly the entire space, overpowering her. The scene is depicted in an exotic manner, and modeled after Egyptian wall paintings.

My series, The David Chronicles, is inspired by these contradicting views. Here’s how David describe his first sighting of her in the first of the series, Rise to Power:

The girls swear by the name of love that they will stay forever and a day, which is too much of a good thing. Inevitably, it makes me wince. My dear wives—Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail of Carmel—send the girls away and lock the doors. They do it not only because they sense my discomfort—but because they are becoming a bit jealous themselves.

But now, Bathsheba… She is different. My God, she is a woman! Which is why she seems untouchable to me, and not only because she is married.

All of a sudden she stirs. Has the water cooled down?

“Go away,” she says, with her back to me.

It seems that shame is not in her nature. She moves the big sponge around her neck, into one armpit, then another, knowing full well I cannot take my eyes off her. I cannot help but notice the bubbles of soap sliding slowly down, all the way down, then around her slippery curves. She may be the one in the tub—but contrary to my expectations, I am the one trapped.

“Go back to your place, sir, to that skyscraper thing of yours.” She points carelessly in the direction of the window at the top of my tower.

What she should be saying is your majesty or my lord rather than sir, but at this turn of events I hardly wish to correct her.

So she goes on to say, “And sir—”

“Yes?” I say, eagerly.

“No need to hide behind that curtain, up there,” says Bathsheba. “What, you think I haven’t noticed? You think I care?”

“I know you don’t,” I say, gloomily.

Feeling uninvited should not come as a surprise to me—but somehow it does. Oh, what was I thinking? That she will accept me with open arms, like every other girl I know?

I kneel down by her side, which forces me to adjust the crown, because it is now tilting on my head.

In profile, her lashes hang over her cheek, and the shadow flutters. Bathsheba brings her hand to her lips and ever so gently, blows off a bubble. It comes off the palm of her hand, then swirls around in the evening breeze, becoming more iridescent until its glassy membrane thins out, and then—pop! Nothing is left but thin air.

“Leave me be,” she says, stretching her arms lazily, as if to prepare for a yawn. “You may watch me from up there all day long, if that’s the kind of thing you like.”

“You sure put on a good show. I never imagined a woman could pose so many different ways in a small tub.”

“Well, if you must know, it’s quite a ritual. Takes a lot to purify the mind.”

“And the body, too.”

“Yes,” says Bathsheba. “A lot of hard work.”

“Apparently so,” say I. “A lot of time, too.”

“Oh, go away already!” She waves a hand at me, still without as much as a glance in my direction. To make matters worse, she turns away. “I can feel your eyes in my back. Just, stop it. Stop watching me.”

I invite you to listen HERE to the beautiful narration of this passage.

I see the love story as the most torrid tale of passion ever told. In the second-in-the series, A Peek at Bathsheba, I explore David’s forbidden love for Bathsheba, and his attempt to cover up the scandal. Will he muster the strength needed to protect her and save their son from danger?

Another sentence in this affair also inspired artists along the same veins of contradiction. “And the woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, I am pregnant.” Compare, for example, the works of these painters depicting her sending that fateful note:

Rembrandt’s famous painting shows a lovely, ponderous Bathsheba, holding David’s letter in her hand. He paints her lovingly, and heightens the sadness in her eyes, knowing that there will be consequences for her and for her husband, the soldier, yet to be suffered.

Picasso’s version is based on Rembrandt’s, but he makes Bathsheba lean forward, emphasizing her keen attention to the letter, and plays with the patterns so that the entire space is abuzz with energy. He also crossed her legs the opposite way, just because. Most importantly, she is trapped by the top of the picture frame—no air to breathe—emphasizing the trouble she finds herself in.

On the other hand, Jan Steen ridicules Bathsheba as a cheap, bare-chested woman, eyeing you, the viewer with a cynical look, in his painting, her attention divided between her pedicure and your presence.

Even in his more ‘modest’ presentation of Bathsheba, where she is a society woman properly dressed up, he sees her as a co-conspirator. She turns her head, surprised to find you spying on her in this intimate moment, when David’s letter is delivered to her.

Inspired by these contrasting views, I imagine David picturing Bathsheba in his mind as she holds the letter:

I must keep myself away from her, to protect both of us from gossip. In secret I send word to Bathsheba, to let her know that I intend to take care of her. I want to do the right thing, one way or another—even though I have no idea, at first, what that may mean. What action should I take? Should I reunite her with her husband, or else take him out of the way, somehow, and make an honest woman out of her? 

Utterly baffled I close my eyes. I try not to think about the forbidden woman, not to imagine her nude—but my mind works against me. 

There she is, sitting in her bedroom, crossing one leg over another at the edge of the bed. By her side, over the richly embroidered, velvety blankets, lays her robe. It is damp and crumpled, because in my mind she has just come out of the bath. From somewhere above soft, golden light is washing over her, letting her flesh glow against the darkness. Light glances off a teardrop earring that is hanging from her earlobe.

I pay no attention to the maid, who is kneeling there before her, because she is barely seen, sunk in the shadows of my vision. Instead I focus on imagining Bathsheba. I paint her face turned from me, in profile. She is holding back a tear as my note rustles in her hand, with the whisper of my word of honor. 

By the look in her eye, she senses that which I have not yet begun to consider. With profound sadness, she can already foresee the calamity, which my promise would cause for her, and for her husband, Uriah. In my mind Bathsheba is already grieving—and yet, she seems to accept her fate, the way I would dictate it.

The third-in-the-series, The Edge of Revolt, depicts David’s old age. The last thing David expects is that his beloved son will topple him from the throne. The betrayal threatens not only his life but also his legacy. Coming back to power will put Absalom in danger. Is David ready to counter his next move?

David’s old age, and his relationship with Bathsheba in the presence of a younger concubine, as depicted by Rembrandt, has inspired me too. Bathsheba must beg the king for swift action—because if he shows weakness at the time of the revolt, her life and the life of her son will be in grave danger.

You know you must act, before this night is over,” she says, over my silence.

Amused by how good it feels to be needed I take my time to answer. Meanwhile I am listening to my breath. It rasps strenuously in my throat.

At last, “Decisive action may be easy for a king,” I tell her. “But as a father I must weigh every word I speak, because in the future it may leave a scar upon the hearts of my children.”

Somewhat reluctantly she says, “I understand.”

“I hope you do,” say I. “They are, all of them, my flesh and blood.”

“Then, act as a king,” she says. “Not as a father. Name the one who will succeed you, the one who—in your judgement—may become a better ruler than the others.”

I have to admit, “I have yet to make up my mind,” which fills her eyes with worry. She knows all too well that Solomon, being the younger son, has less of a change to win my favor.

“Decide,” she says. “And make your wishes known. That in itself may bring about a change, a peaceful transition of power. Otherwise, I’m afraid there will be mayhem. It will start at sunrise.”

I let go of her hand, because to say my next sentence I must not lean on anyone.

But before I can muster my pride, and take air in my lungs, and clear my throat to state, in my most regal tones, “I am still the king, am I not,” I find myself staggering. In the next instant, there I am, a heap of arms and legs spilled on the floor, twisting in agony from the sudden chill overtaking me.

I reach up, trying to breathe her name. And I wonder what this suffering may look like, to her and to a heavenly city watching over me, floating silent and forlorn on the hill.

Overhead, a cloud breaks off from the others and moves in a new direction. Its wooly, dim grays are drifting across. I squint, rub my eyes. Now, in a separate layer, another image starts floating past: the way she looked, right here on this roof, when we came out of these doors the very first time.

I remember: scattered petals flew off, swirling in the glow around her long, silky hair that started cascading under her, onto the tile floor. In the background, a vine of roses twisted over the wooden lattice and into it. Between its diagonal slats I saw a diamond here, a diamond there of the heavens. I wondered then about the black void that was gaping upon us, dotted by a magical glint of starlight.

Separated from her by the thought of a kiss I sensed her heat, and the gust of air, which was sweetly scented by roses and by her flesh—but I could not tell if the breath between us was hers or mine. Which is when I knew, for the first time in my life, that she would always be part of my essence. I would be part of hers.

Accidentally the goblet, which she had set down next to her, tipped over and some of the wine spilled over her hip. The crisp sound of breaking glass rang in my ear. It marked the moment, from which I could not turn back. Never would I be able to put it out of my mind.

Yes, this was my fault: taking a woman that belonged to another. Soon after came the blunder: bringing her husband, Uriah, back from the front, that he may sleep with her, which would have explained her pregnancy ever so conveniently.

And when that did not go as planned, then came another mistake, the worst of all: sending him back to the battlefield, with my sealed letter in hand, arranging for his death.

All the while, my boys were learning their own lessons—not from my psalms but from my deeds. One error begets another, each one bringing a new calamity over me, over my family, and over this entire land. Sin followed by execution, followed by revolt, escape, execution, revolt…

Had I known back then the results of the results of my mistake, the curse looming over my life ever since that time, would I still choose to do it?

Bathsheba tries to raise me to my feet. Her fragrance brings back to me the sunny, warm hues of spring. The fears, the doubts flee away when we are that close. I adore the way she calls my name, the way she sighs. With every sweet word I fall deeper into her eyes.

How can love be a mistake? In my passion for her—then as now—what choice do I have?

I want to tell her, “Let me close my eyes. Let me remember.”

I invite you to listen HERE to the narration of this passage.

Author links:

@UviPoznansky

Blog

Art Site

Facebook

BookBub

YouTube

 Book links:

Rise to Power

Audiobook

A Peek at Bathsheba

Audiobook

The Edge of Revolt

Audiobook

 

 

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