'Bathsheba at the bath with two attendants' 1640

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (1591 - 1666)

Pen and brown ink and wash, 22.9 x 32cm

This is a preparatory drawing for a large painting, now lost, that was commissioned in 1640 by the Bolognese nobleman Count Astorre Hercolani. A smaller copy of the painting was made and photographed. This drawing shows a number of differences from this copy and a similar drawing held in the Royal Collection at Windsor.

It is clear from the visible 'pentimenti' (earlier, crossed out or covered marks) that Guercino was continuously changing his mind in attempting to visualize the biblical story of King David's adultery with Bathsheba. Originally Bathsheba's head was turned round, deliberately catching the eye of the king. Guercino fiercely scrubbed this out, hiding it under a bushy tree. This may have been because the assertive action does not coincide with Bathsheba's mostly passive role in the story.

Guercino's superb graphic skills were admired even early in his career. They were never affected by the eye defect that led to him being nicknamed 'guercino', or squinter.

Purchased with the help of the Art Fund and National Heritage Memorial Fund.