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1000 Words: Marc Chagall’s “David and Bathsheba,” 1956


Marc Chagall was a Russian Jewish modern artist who attended quite particularly to his religious life and tradition. Many of his themes were of Biblical subjects, and he seemed to have a sense of Divine participation in his work. He said, “When I am finishing a picture, I hold some God-made object up to it – a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand – as a final test. If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there’s a clash between the two, it’s bad art.” In this composition, Chagall’s saying that “All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites” is on display with the two dreamlike figures over the heads of David and Bathsheba. Though I’m unsure of the meaning of these two beings, I’m interpreting them as the souls, since they are positioned over the foreheads of each, or perhaps as a representation of David (red) making an overture toward Bathsheba (blue). As their two faces seemingly blended into one indicate, there is not a unity of will in this encounter, and competing loyalties and desires in the story. David’s face is unflinching and his eye is possessing. Bathsheba’s face, more somber and turned aside, is more indicative of the lament for the incidents that arose from this union. David’s hand on the harp is purple, a combination of red and blue, which I take as an indication that though the union of the two was illicit, it is out of the marriage of David and Bathsheba that the promised “house of David” continues, though plagued by the curse Nathan utters as a consequence for the sinful covetousness of another man’s wife.