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David Gives Uriah a Letter for Joab

Pieter Lastman (Ansterdam 1583 – 1633 Amsterdam)
date
1619
medium
oil on panel
dimensions
42.8 x 63.3 cm
signed information

signed and dated in light paint along lower right corner: “PLaſtman fecit 1619” (“PL” in ligature)

inventory number
PL-100
Currently on view: The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

Pollack, Rachel. “David Gives Uriah a Letter for Joab.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York.

https://www.theleidencollection.com/archive/ (accessed September 23, 2018).

This page is available on the site’s Archive. PDF of every version of this page is available on the Archive, and the Archive is managed by a permanent URL. Archival copies will never be deleted. New versions are added only when a substantive change to the narrative occurs.

Print

One sin always begets another. Even the great King David learned this lesson to his detriment. One day he beheld the beautiful Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, bathing near the royal palace walls. A servant summoned her to his bedchamber, and soon thereafter David learned that she was with child. In a desperate attempt to cover up his adultery, David sent for Uriah and ordered him to go home to his wife. The noble soldier Uriah refused to abandon his men, who were on campaign against the Ammonites. No amount of food or drink could persuade Uriah to return to his wife. So the deceitful King David turned to murder—not with his sword but with his pen.

Pieter Lastman depicts the fateful moment when King David hands Uriah a letter addressed to his commanding officer, Joab, which contains the following orders: “Place Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest; then fall back so that he may be killed” (2 Samuel 11:15). Lastman captures this pivotal and dramatic moment through expressive gestures and lush undulating folds of drapery, the clarity of his design already evident in the painting’s bold underdrawing (). David, dressed in regal purple and draped in a red, ermine-trimmed cloak, sits high upon his throne. Twisting his body awkwardly, David grasps his scepter in one hand while holding the letter with its red wax seal in the other. Troubled by guilt and unable to make direct eye contact with Uriah, David gazes off to the side. Uriah looks directly up at the king and maintains the perfect, upright stature of an honorable man. His fidelity to the king is emphasized by the dog seated between the two men. In the distance, Uriah’s fellow soldiers gather to await the king’s latest command. Only the scribe at the right knows the treacherous content of the letter, and he is in no position to betray David’s trust.

Lastman derived this composition from the design he made in 1611 for a monumental stained glass window for the Zuiderkerk in Amsterdam, King Cyrus Returning the Vessels from the Temple of the Lord to the Jews (). In this scene a different king, also holding his scepter, similarly delivers a decree to a kneeling man within a classical architectural setting overlooking a large domed cathedral. A painted copy of the stained glass window executed by Thomas de Keyser in 1660 shows that Cyrus wore an elegant ermine-trimmed red robe similar to that draped around David’s shoulders. The many compositional similarities between these works indicate that Lastman explicitly sought to contrast the actions of the two kings, Cyrus’s benevolence and David’s treachery. Indeed, it is noteworthy that in 1611, the year in which Lastman designed the stained glass window with the story of Cyrus, he also painted his earliest depiction of King David and Uriah ().

The subject of David and Uriah was rarely illustrated in art; earlier prints and drawings primarily depict the meeting of the two men, not the final transaction of the letter. Lastman, however, rendered this fateful moment in such a way as to remind the viewer that it marks David’s fall from God’s grace. Lastman based his narrative on Josephus’s The Antiquity of the Jews, a popular biblical and historical record of the Jewish people written in the first century AD. Josephus states that David wrote the letter and “stamped it with his own seal.” This detail, which is not noted in the Bible, is clearly emphasized in Lastman’s painting. The implications of the seal would have been understood by the Dutch. For example, in 1614 Roemer Visscher, in his emblem book Sinnepoppen, warned his readers to distrust any official letter that did not have a seal of authenticity. King David’s letter has the proper seal, but its content was unworthy of such honorable verification.

In 1619, the very year that Lastman painted this panel, he also painted The Bathing of Bathsheba (). He may have intended the two paintings to be pendants, since both works are derived from the same biblical episode and are virtually identical in size. The year 1619 marked a tragic event in Dutch history that may explain the artist’s decision to paint this biblical subject. On 13 May, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, once the great and heroic compatriot of William the Silent, was executed for high treason. His death shocked many in the Netherlands, since Van Oldenbarnevelt had served as the Land’s Advocate of Holland, was instrumental in founding the United East India Company, and played a critical role in bringing about the Twelve Years’ Truce. In 1618, however, Van Oldenbarnevelt fell out of political favor when he sided with the Remonstrants, a moderate branch of the Calvinist Church that supported the rights of each provincial government to determine its own religious doctrine. The stadholder Prince Maurits sided with the Anti-Remonstrants, a stricter fundamentalist branch of Calvinism that favored government protection and support of one official Reformed Church. Prince Maurits ordered Van Oldenbarnevelt’s arrest and beheading, and subsequently consolidated all political and military might in the Dutch Republic. One can imagine how the biblical story of David and Uriah resounded in certain sectors of the Netherlands, demonstrating that even the greatest and most loyal of public servants could swiftly become a pawn in the cruel game of politics.

This exquisitely preserved painting is one of Lastman’s finest works, not only in the characterization of the figures but also in the way the structural clarity of the composition reinforces the dramatic thrust and power of this narrative moment. One appreciates immediately in this work why two aspiring history painters from Leiden, namely Jan Lievens (1607–74) and Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69), came to Amsterdam to study under this renowned master. Each of these artists remained indebted to Lastman’s influence long after their periods of study (Lievens from around 1617–21 and Rembrandt for six months in 1625), with Rembrandt actually making a number of copies of Lastman’s compositions in 1633, the year of that master’s death.

Beyond its outstanding artistic qualities, David Gives Uriah a Letter for Joab has had a fascinating place in the complex history of the Nazi and postwar eras that adds to the work’s cultural significance. Jacques Goudstikker, a prominent Jewish dealer of Old Master paintings in Amsterdam, acquired this painting around 1919. In May 1940 Goudstikker fled Amsterdam just days prior to the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands, but he died tragically on the ship that was taking him and his family to safety in London. Goudstikker’s gallery and his collection of paintings were confiscated by the Nazis. The gallery, now run by Alois Miedl, soon sold Lastman’s painting and a number of other works to Adolf Hitler’s second-in-command, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. In 1944 Göring traded Lastman’s painting, among others, back to Miedl for Han van Meegeren’s Vermeer forgery, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (). Lastman’s painting was then acquired by Hermann Voss for Hitler’s proposed Führermuseum in Linz.

After the war, the Allies recovered Lastman’s painting and turned it over to the Dutch authorities in 1946. A special Dutch Recuperation Commission decided against returning the painting to the family despite years of protest by Goudstikker’s widow, Desirée. The painting was lent to the Groningen Museum in Groningen from 1975 to 1987 and to the Mauritshuis in The Hague from 1987 to 2006. The complex story of the Goudstikker case was reexamined by a special restitution committee in 2005, which recommended that the Dutch government reverse its earlier decision. The painting was returned to the Goudstikker heirs, and eventually purchased by present owner in 2007.

- Rachel Pollack
2017
  • Jacques Clemens (1713–79), Canon of the Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent (his sale, Ghent, 21 June 1779, no. 151).
  • Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt, Munich, before 1911 (sale, Dr. Hans Stegman, Director of the Bayerische Nationalmuseum, and Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt, Director of the Graphische Sammlung, Munich, “Ölgemälde Alter Meister,” Galerie Hugo Helbing, 20 April 1917, no. 72).
  • Jacques Goudstikker (1897–16 May 1940), Amsterdam, before November 1919 [from Lippmann], inv. no. 646/1199, also listed as no. 1341.
  • Confiscated by Nazi forces in a forced sale by Goudstikker Collection employees Arie Albertus Ten Broek and Jan Dik, Jr. to Alois Miedl on 13 July 1940; purchased by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring (1893–1946) from Miedl on 13 July 1940 for 331 reichsmarks and delivered to Carinhall on 13 September 1940; transferred to Walter Andreas Hofer, Director of the Art Collection of the Reichsmarschall, Berlin; traded by Göring and Hofer to Goudstikker/Miedl, Amsterdam, on 9 February 1944 in exchange for Han van Meegeren’s Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery; purchased by Hans Herbst, Director of Dorotheum Auction House, in Vienna in 1944; purchased by Hermann Voss, Director of the Führermuseum in Linz, on behalf of Adolf Hitler for 15,000 reichsmarks, Linz no. 3928; collected by the Allies and recorded at the Munich Central Collecting Point, 25 July 1945–29 March 1946, Mu. no. 5236.
  • Foundation for Dutch Art Property (Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit), The Hague, 1948–52, no. NK 2834.
  • Collection of the Department for Dispersed National Artworks (Collectie Dienst voor’s Rijks Verspreide Kunstvoorwerpen), 1952–75, no. NK 2834, on loan to the Groninger Museum, Groningen, 1953–75.
  • Department of Dispersed National Collections (Dienst Verspreide Rijkscollecties), 1975–85, no. NK 2834, on loan to the Groninger Museum, Groningen, 1975–87.
  • Department of the National Fine Arts Collection (Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst), 1985–97, no. NK 2834, on loan to the Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1987–97, no. 1074.
  • The Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (Instituut Collectie Nederland), Amsterdam, 1997–2006, no. NK 2834, on loan to the Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1987–2006, 1074.
  • Restituted to the sole heir of Jacques Goudstikker, Marei von Saher, Greenwich, Conn., 6 February 2006 [Otto Naumann Ltd., New York, 2007].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2007.
  • The Hague, “Exposée dans les localités du schilderdkundig genootschap ‘Pulchri Studio,’” November 1919, no. 63 [lent by Jacques Goudstikker].
  • Saint Louis, City Art Museum, “Exhibition of Dutch and Flemish Pictures from the 15th–17th Century from the Goudstikker Collection of Amsterdam,” Detroit, The Detroit Institute of Arts, 13 January–15 February 1923, no. 35; New York, Anderson Gallery, 10 March–7 April 1923, no. 66 [lent by Jacques Goudstikker].
  • The Hague, “Collection Goudstikker d’Amsterdam: 10e Exposition dans les Locaux de Pulchri Studio, La Haye,” 13 March–4 April 1926, no. 87 [lent by Jacques Goudstikker].
  • Amsterdam, Maatschappij Arti et Amicitiae, “Tentoonstelling van Schilderijen en teekeningen van Nederlandse Italianideerende schilders uit de 16e en 17e eeuw” (“Van Heemskerck tot Haekaert”), 14 July–16 September 1934, no. 41 [lent by Jacques Goudstikker].
  • Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, “Tentoonstelling Bijbelsche Kunst,” 8 July–8 October 1939, no. 53a [lent by Jacques Goudstikker].
  • Groningen, Groninger Museum, on permanent loan, 1953–87 [lent by the Collection of the Department for Dispersed National Artworks (Collectie Dienst voor’s Rijks Verspreide Kunstvoorwerpen, 1953–75; Department of Dispersed National Collections (Dienst Verspreide Rijkscollecties), 1975–85; Department of the National Fine Arts Collection (Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst), 1985–87].
  • Bolsward, City Hall, “Wurd en byld: Woord en beeld; Gysbert Japicx 1603–1666, en de kunst van zijn tijd,” 27 June–4 September 1966, no. 41, no. 6 [lent by the Collection of the Department for Dispersed National Artworks (Collectie Dienst voor’s Rijks Verspreide Kunstvoorwerpen)].
  • Groningen, Groninger Museum, “Het Verraad: David geeft de brief aan Uria, een schilderijen van Pieter Lastman uit 1619,” 6 June–6 July 1980 [lent by the Department of Dispersed National Collections (Dienst Verspreide Rijkscollecties)].
  • Washington, National Gallery of Art, “Gods, Saints, and Heroes: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt,” 2 November 1980–4 January 1981; Detroit, The Detroit Institute of Art, 16 February–19 April 1981; Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 16 May–19 July 1981, no. 22 [lent by the Department of Dispersed National Collections (Dienst Verspreide Rijkscollecties)].
  • The Hague, Mauritshuis, on permanent loan, 1987–97, no. 1074 [lent by the Department of the National Fine Arts Collection (Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst)].
  • Amsterdam, The Rembrandt House Museum, “Pieter Lastman, leermeester van Rembrandt,7 December 1991–17 February 1992, no. 12 [lent by the lent by the Department of the National Fine Arts Collection (Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst)].
  • Jerusalem, Israel Museum, Spertus Gallery, “Painting the Bible in Rembrandt’s Holland,” 1993 [lent by the Department of the National Fine Arts Collection (Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst)].
  • Münster, Westphalian State Museum of Art and Cultural History; Amsterdam, Jewish Historical Museum; Jerusalem, Israel Museum, “Im Lichte Rembrandts: Das Alte Testament in Goldenen Zeitalter der niederländischen Kunst,” 1994, no. 45 [lent by the lent by the Department of the National Fine Arts Collection (Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst)].
  • Greenwich, Conn., Bruce Museum, “Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker,” 10 May–7 September 2008; New York, The Jewish Museum, 12 March–2 August 2009; San Antonio, McNay Museum of Art, 5 October 2009–10 January 2010, no. 12 [lent by the present owner].
  • Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, January 2010–June 2011, on loan with the permanent collection [lent by the present owner].
  • Kyoto, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, “Communication: Visualizing the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer,” 25 June–16 October 2011; Miyagi, The Miyagi Museum of Art, 27 October–12 December 2011; Tokyo, The Bunkamura Museum of Art, 23 December 2011–14 March 2012, no. 26 [lent by the present owner].
  • New York, Metropolitan Museum, on loan with the permanent collection, September 2012–May 2016 [lent by the present owner].
  • Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, “Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt,” 4 October 2016–2 January 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Paris, Museé du Louvre, “Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt,” 22 February–22 May 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 17 June–3 September 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 23 September 2017–25 February 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 28 March 2018–22 July 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 5 September 2018–13 January 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Freise, Kurt. Pieter Lastman, sein Leben und seine Kunst: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Holländ. Leipzig, 1911, 43, no. 32.
  • Müller-Hofstede, Cornelius. “Beiträge zur Geschichte des biblischen Historienbildes im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert in Holland.” PhD diss. Berlin, 1925, 75, 95, 102.
  • Thieme, Ulrich, and Felix Becker, ed. Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. 37 vols. Leipzig, 1907–50, 22: 413.
  • Müller-Hofstede, Cornelius. “Studien zu Lastman und Rembrandt.” Jahrbuch der preußischen Kunstsammlungen 50 (1929): 72.
  • Schmidt-Degener, Frederik. Tentoonstelling van Schilderijen en teekeningen van Nederlandse Italianideerende schilders uit de 16e en 17e eeuw (“Van Heemskerck tot Haekaert”). Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Maatschappij Arti et Amicitiae. Amsterdam, 1934, no. 41.
  • Schmidt-Degener, Frederik, J. E. Reesink, A. E. H. Rogaar, and F. van Eyck. Tentoonstelling Bijbelsche Kunst. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, 1939, 47, no. 53a.
  • Von Baldass, Ludwig. “Studien über Jacob Pynas.” Belvedere 13 (1938/43): 158 n. 8.
  • Bauch, Kurt. “Handzeichnungen Pieter Lastmans.” Münchner Jahrbuch der Bildenden Kunst 3 & 4 (1952/53): 227–28, no. 11.
  • Judson, J. Richard. “Gerrit van Honthorst: A Discussion of His Position in Dutch Art.” Utrechtse bijdragen tot de kunstgeschiedenis 6 (1959): 59, 97–98, no. 66.
  • Tümpel, Christian. “Ikonographische Beiträge zu Rembrandt. Zur Duetung und Interpretation einzelner Werke (II).” Jahrbuch der Hamburger Kunstsammlungen 16 (1971): 24.
  • Pigler, Andor. Barockthemen, eine Auswahl von Verzeichnissen zur Ikonographie des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts. 2nd ed. 2 vols. Budapest, 1974, 1:156.
  • Ronday, Hendrik Johan. Wurd en byld: Woord en beeld: Gysbert Japicx, 1603–1666, en de kunst van zijn tijd. Exh. cat. Bolsward, City Hall. Bolsward, 1966, no. 31, no. 6.
  • Tümpel, Astrid. “Claes Cornelisz. Moeyaert, Katalog der Gemälde.” Oud Holland 88 (1974): 42–44, no. 54.
  • Tümpel, Astrid, and Christian Tümpel. The Pre-Rembrandtists. Exh. cat. Sacramento, E. B. Crocker Art Gallery. Sacramento, 1974, 140, 150 n. 107.
  • Guratzsch, Herwig. “Die Untersicht als Gestaltungsmittel in Rembrandts Frühwerk. Beobachtungen zum Kompositionellen des holländischen Meisters.” Oud Holland 89 (1975): 260 n. 23.
  • Sumowski, Werner. “Zeichnungen von Lastman und aus dem Lastman-Kreis.” Giessener Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte 3 (1975): 154, 180, n. 25–26, 182 n. 47.
  • Gelderman-Leeuwnburg, Joke, et. al. Het Verraad: David geeft de brief aan Uria, een schilderijen van Pieter Lastman uit 1619. Exh. cat. Groningen, Groninger Museum. Groningen, 1980.
  • Tümpel, Christian. “Die Ikonographie der Amsterdamer Historienmalerei in der ersten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts und die Reformation.” Vestigia Bibliae. Jahrbuch der Deutschen Bibel-Archives, Hamburg 2 (1980): 142–43, no. 5.
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  • Scott, Mary Ann. “An Unknown Painting by Moeyaert and its Reconstruction.” Hoogsteder-Nauman Mercury 9 (1989): 25.
  • Tümpel, Astrid and Peter Schatborn. Pieter Lastman, leermeester van Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, The Rembrandt House Museum. Amsterdam, 1991, 108–9, no. 12.
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The support, a single plank of horizontal, wavy-grained, rectangular oak, has bevels on all four sides. The unthinned and uncradled panel has shallow vertical handtool marks and two small wood inserts along the lower edge. Ten paper labels, three round import stamps, and various numerical inscriptions are located on the reverse of the panel, but there are no machine toolmarks, wax seals, stencils or obvious panel maker’s marks.

A light-colored ground has been thinly and evenly applied with sweeping horizontal and diagonal strokes, followed by thinly and smoothly applied paint throughout most of the composition and drapery folds; areas of detail are built up in low impasto.

Infrared images captured at 780–1700 nanometers reveal an extensive underdrawing below the painted composition. A freehand graphite sketch rather than an ink wash was used to lay out the composition. King David’s elaborate drapery folds included a horizontal sash and large bow with two loops. Uriah was also completely sketched, including his drapery folds, helmet with plume, and arms. In the underdrawing, the crisp folds of the corners of the tablecloth to David’s right hung lower and the upper edge of the fabric, which hangs between the columns directly behind David, was executed with a low hung swag in the center, although it was then painted straight, parallel to the upper panel edge. An additional figure drawn at the far right has been obscured by the painted green drapery. The domed building and landscape in the distance seen at the left were added during the paint stage, but are not visible in the X-radiograph and were not underdrawn.

The painting is signed and dated in light paint along the lower right corner. PL is written in ligature and the s is written as a long descending s.

The painting has not undergone conservation treatment since its acquisition and remains in a good state of preservation.

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