Bathsheba stares brazenly out at the viewer while a maidservant trims her toenails. King David, who saw her beauty and desired her, sent her a summons to appear at his palace. Although she was married, Bathsheba was forced to comply.
A popular subject, artists often portrayed Bathsheba as distraught about her dilemma. Here, Jan Steen depicted her as a temptress, rather than the innocent victim of the king's passion. In this moralizing painting, Steen commented on the foolishness of human behavior.
Bathsheba's robe is casually arranged to reveal her breast and bare legs. The shoe in the right foreground symbolizes lasciviousness; the fountain on the left probably alludes to female fecundity. She is so lost in her thoughts that she holds King David's note loosely in her right hand and pays no attention to the small dog or to the old woman grasping her shoulder.