In 1750, the twenty-three year old Abel Poisson -- then known as the Marquis de Vandières, and the younger brother of the king's powerful maîtresse en titre, the Marquise de Pompadour - visited Rome as a final stop on the Grand Tour organized for him by his sister to complete his artistic education before he assumed his post as the Surintendant des Bâtiments on his return to Paris. While in Rome, he inspected the Académie de France, of which Jean-François de Troy was the venerable Director, and the pensionnaires entreated De Troy to paint Vandières' portrait to commemorate the occasion (1750-1751; today in the Musée National du Château, Versailles).
It seems almost certain that Vandières commissioned or acquired this Bathsheba at her Bath at that time. An anonymous addendum to de Valory's address to the Académie Royale in February 1762, marking the tenth anniversary of De Troy's death, cites it as one of the works made by the artist in Rome. Furthermore, the painting is executed in the artist's final manner, indicating that it was made near the end of his life; and in fact, he turned to the same model for the attendant combing Bathsheba's hair and the Virgin Mary in the Blessed Gerolamo Emiliani Presenting Orphans to the Virgin (signed and dated 1749), a huge Roman altarpiece, now in the Church of Ss. Bonifacio e Alessio all'Aventino.
The Marquis de Marigny, as Vandières came to be styled, was to assemble a celebrated cabinet de nudité with appropriate paintings by Natoire, Pierre, Lagrenée the Elder, Boucher and others. He would, one trusts, have appreciated the luxurious, erotic gloss of De Troy's depiction of the Old Testament's most famous cautionary tale of lust, adultery and betrayal in the court of King David.
In the Second Book of Samuel (II: 2-17), David, king of Israel, saw a beautiful woman bathing as he walked along the roof of his palace one evening. She was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite who was away from home serving in David's army. David had Bathsheba brought to his palace, where they made love and she was impregnated. Later, David arranged for Uriah to be sent to the front and killed in battle, after which, Bathsheba and David married. Their child died within days of its birth, God's retribution for their sinful misbehavior. De Troy paints Bathsheba at her toilet in her secluded garden: nubile female attendants surround her, combing her hair, anointing her feet with oils, helping her select jewels from her jewel case. King David, hidden in the shadows, watches Bathsheba from his palace window. As is often the case, the episode is a pretext for the artist to depict a bevy of comely young women in an intimate and (the women would believe) private setting. De Troy employs all his skill as a master of the human form to artfully arrange Bathsheba and her six attendants into a sort of human pyramid, each girl colorfully dressed in a luscious overabundance of fine silks and ornately embroidered fabrics.
This is De Troy's second known depiction of this particular biblical subject, and it is far more populous, elaborate and classically composed than his prior version, a famous but less formal work of half the size that includes but a single attendant with Bathsheba and dates from almost twenty-five years earlier (1727; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Angers). A canvas of comparable size and date depicting Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro (private collection, Brussels) may have been conceived as a pendant for Vandières' Bathsheba, but it remained in De Troy's studio, unframed and unsold at the time of the painter's death. Its violent and melodramatic subject matter may not have appealed to the young collector and it certainly could have had no place in his cabinet de nudité.