A Woman at her Toilet, 1632 or 1633
Rembrandt van Rijn
oil on canvas
109.2 x 94.4 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 6089)
The scene mixes the domestic and the momentous, and we sense that the woman's careful toilette is a prelude to something more important. Her rich, strange clothes suggest a biblical subject. She may be Judith preparing to seduce and then kill Holofernes, commander of the enemy's forces. Or she may be Esther, who saved the Jews by braving death to win over king Ahasuerus of Persia. Both set inspiring examples for a country at war, as was the Netherlands. More troublingly, she may be Bathsheba, summoned before the lustful king David who will force her into adultery. We are not told, but required to imagine the work's subject. Characteristically, Rembrandt has chosen not to depict action, but rather its anticipation, showing the woman lost in thought as she contemplates the future. Saskia van Uylenburgh, who would soon become the artist's wife, may have been the sitter.