In the book of Samuel, King David looks down from his roof one evening and sees “a woman washing herself.” He then initiates his affair with the woman, the beautiful Bathsheba. While many great European artists—most famously Rembrandt—have depicted Bathsheba as bathing nude, others have imagined her merely washing her feet. David M. Gunn explains:
Many an interpreter has held Bathsheba to be at fault for showing herself naked to the king—for seducing him.
[The 15th-century French artist Jean] Bourdichon followed the custom of late-medieval illuminated books of hours and psalters in showing Bathsheba standing naked in a pool with a fountain. However, the earliest printed Bibles with embedded woodcut illustrations, produced in the late 15th century first in Cologne and then in Nuremberg, show a very different Bathsheba. She is clothed. Holding up the hem of her dress, she sits with her feet in a bowl. In Martin Luther’s 16th-century German Bibles, she usually sits beside the castle moat with a servant washing her feet. . . .
The bathing Bathsheba of the books of hours is accompanied by the words of the penitential psalm, “Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me” (“O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger” [Ps 6:1]). These words are traditionally understood to be David’s. So perhaps the naked woman signifies not her own lapse, but his lust and moral failure. On the other hand, many books of hours were made for and used by women. What did it mean for a woman to pray in penitence, “O Lord, do not rebuke me,” while looking at this bathing woman? Was the bathing woman a warning against being seduced?