Herri met de Bles - The Story of David and Bathsheba, about 1535-1540

Herri met de Bles (about 1510 - after 1550)

The Story of David and Bathsheba, about 1535-1540

Oil on panel, 46.2 x 69.2 cm (18 3/16 x 27 1/4 in.)


Object details

Accession number



Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner from a sale at the Galleria Sangiorgi, Rome for 4,275 lire on 13 April 1895, lot 9.


Galleria Sangiorgi. Collection de Tableaux et d'Objets d'Art qui Seront Vendus Pour le Compte de la Banque Populaire et Caisse d'Epargne de Gènes... (Rome, 6 April 1895), p. 3, lot 9, ill. (entitled "Roi recevevant une ambassade"; as by de Bles, end of the 15th century)
Catalogue. Fenway Court. (Boston, 1903), p. 17. (entitled "The Tennis Court"; as by de Bles)
Philip Hendy. Catalogue of the Exhibited Paintings and Drawings (Boston, 1931), pp. 48-49, ill. (entitled "The Story of David and Bathseba"; as by de Bles)
Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), p. 210. (as by de Bles)
“Notes, Records, Comments.” Gardner Museum Calendar of Events 7, no. 4 (22 Sep. 1963), p. 2. (as attribution disputed, perhaps the Brunswick Monogrammist)
Frits Lugt. Inventaire général des dessins des écoles du Nord publié sous les auspices du Cabinet des dessins. Maîtres des anciens Pays-Bas nés avant 1500 (Paris, 1968), pp. 86-87. (as one of an estimated 10-12 versions of the painting)
Philip Hendy. European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1974), pp. 119-120, ill. (as by de Bles, before 1559, likely 1525-1540; either the Gardner version or the version attributed to Lucas Gassel, now housed in the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut as the original version)
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 74-75, ill. (as by de Bles, about 1535; the Wadsworth version as "best")
Roger Morgan. Tennis: The Development of the European Ball Game (London, 1995), pp. 91-92, 109, 243. (as attributed to de Bles; lists ten versions of the painting)
Herri Met De Bles: Studies and Exploration of the World Landscape Tradition (Princeton, 1998), pp. 120-22, fig. 98. (as by de Bles (?); the Wadsworth version as from the same workshop as the Gardner version)
Luc Serck in Jacques Toussaint et al. Autour de Henri Bles. Exh. cat. (Namur, Belgium: Musée des arts anciens du Namurois, 2000), pp. 27-28, 158-65, no. 4. (attributed to de Bles; as the original version of this composition)
Christie's. Important Old Master Pictures (London, 8 July 2005), lot 19. (as attributed to de Bles; as the earliest version; the multiple versions as by artists from the same guild)
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 136-37, ill. (as by de Bles, about 1535-1540)
Cees de Bondt. Royal Tennis in Renaissance Italy (Turnhout, 2006), pp. 194, 250, n36, n40, pl. 13. (as by de Bles; the original version of the composition according to Serck)
Bonhams. Old Master Paintings (London, 6 July 2011), lot 114. (the lot for sale as a close copy of the Gardner version)
Philippe George. Art et Patrimoine en Wallonie: des origines à 1789 (Namur: Institut du Patrimoine wallon, 2017), p. 275, fig. 488.

Rights and reproductions

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Tucked into this rich landscape are several episodes from the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel). In the arched window at the upper right, King David, wearing a crown and holding a scepter, watches Bathsheba bathing in the pool at the opposite corner of the painting. On the terrace below, David appears again. He hands to Bathsheba’s husband Uriah a letter sending him to his eventual death.

This Biblical episode concerned with illicit love and flirtation has been set in a sixteenth-century park equally redolent of courtly love. An elaborate Renaissance palace overlooks a pleasure garden peopled with aristocrats, courtiers, and jesters. Spectators watch a game of court tennis in a walled enclosure in the foreground. In the middle distance is a topiary maze; beyond, deer are being hunted. A vibrant seaport is nestled under the distant mountains. The very complexity of this courtly landscape compels attention. Our eyes wander through the scene, searching out curious and delightful incidents. The minuteness of the details challenges us to identify the biblical narrative. Rather than overwhelming the story of David and Bathsheba, the landscape setting reinforces its significance.

Source: Alan Chong, "Lanscape with David and Bathsheba," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 137.