Born in Venice in 1675, Pellegrini received his training in the workshop of Paolo Pagani, with whom he traveled to Moravia and Vienna in 1690. In 1704, he was back in Venice, where he married Angela Carriera, the sister of the celebrated Grand Tour pastel portraitist, Rosalba. Four years later Pellegrini departed for London at the behest of Charles Montagu, the British Ambassador to Venice and later 1st Duke of Manchester. There he designed theater sets and executed decorative paintings in, among others, Burlington House and Castle Howard. Pellegrini's successful entry into England's artistic circles was confirmed in 1711, when he became a founder-member and director of the country's first school for art, Godfrey Kneller's, Academy in Great Queen Street. He subsequently travelled to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria, returning to Venice by 1735, where he remained for the rest of his life.
The Old Testament story of Bathsheba (Samuel 11:2-17) was a popular subject in Rococo Europe. Bathsheba, the beautiful wife of King David's soldier, Uriah, was bathing one evening when she was spotted by the king walking on the roof of his nearby palace. Exercising his political might, David summoned Bathsheba to his house, made love to her and fathered a son. Continuing his master plan, David stationed Uriah on the frontline of a battle, where he inevitably died in combat. In the present composition Bathsheba is at her toilet, moments before her departure for David's palace, attended by a maidservant proffering flowers and a black page holding up a mirror. In the eighteenth century Bathsheba at her toilet became a legitimate context for images of erotically appealing female nudes. Pellegrini presses David's paramour and her attendants up against the picture plane purely for our delectation.
We are grateful to Professor George Knox for confirming the attribution to Pellegrini on the basis of a color transparency (verbal communication, 20 October 2004). Several versions of the present composition are known, one of which, listed in Knox (op. cit., p. 254), is incorrectly given the 1950 Christie's provenance which pertains to the present work.