Rembrandt’s Bathsheba at Her Bath

This year marks 350 years since the death of Rembrandt (1606-1669), and many museums around the world are hosting exhibitions, lectures and other events dedicated to the master of Dutch baroque. For our art & scent series, I’ve selected one of my favorite paintings by Rembrandt, Bathsheba at Her Bath. It depicts the moment when Bathsheba receives a letter from King David, summoning her. Most other paintings cast Bathsheba as seductress and temptress, but Rembrandt portrays her as a woman facing a difficult moral dilemma, torn between loyalty to her husband and her obligation to obey the royal order.

Like in other paintings by Rembrandt, the play of light and shadows create a powerful dramatic effect. It’s baroque at its most dazzling and alluring.

So, what fragrance would you use to capture the mood of this painting? If none exists, please feel free to fantasize and invent your own.

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36 Comments

  • Armando: It would have to be a chypre. A juxtaposition of cool and warm notes. A little dry, perhaps with some violets to add melancholy to the composition, and incense. At the time it was typical for women of certain social status to use incense and resins when bathing to keep their skin healthy and to smell good. At least when bathing for special occasions. November 4, 2019 at 8:01am Reply

  • Matty: Prada Amber November 4, 2019 at 9:17am Reply

  • Toni5x5: Is there a watery oud or amber that you know? It suddenly came to me after reading your article but it sounds like such a contradiction. November 4, 2019 at 9:38am Reply

  • Devon Rubin: I was thinking the obvious, an Oriental. November 4, 2019 at 9:49am Reply

  • spe: Pensivel, sedate, voluptuous. L’Heure Bleue. November 4, 2019 at 10:02am Reply

  • Elisabetta: Prada Infusion D”Iris 2007 edition. The beautiful Somali incense along with the powder and the cool restraint of that perfume seems to linger in the beautiful light around Bathsheba. November 4, 2019 at 10:19am Reply

  • Mary Joplin: Salome by Papillon. It’s appropriately seductive. November 4, 2019 at 10:30am Reply

    • Filomena: I was going to say Salome by Papillon as well! November 4, 2019 at 5:03pm Reply

      • Heidi: I was also going to say Salome! November 4, 2019 at 10:59pm Reply

  • KatieAnn: Beautiful painting. I’m thinking Sideris by Maria Candida Gentile would be a nice choice. It contains notes of myrrh, labdanum, saffron, rose, and sandalwood. Blessings to you and your family, Victoria. November 4, 2019 at 10:52am Reply

  • David: I can think of 2 fragrances that would capture the mood of this fragrance: Scherrer 2 and Occur by Avon. (I only know the vintage versions). I have the Occur perfume oil and it is the exact color as the brown in the painting. November 4, 2019 at 11:08am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi David,

      I still have a couple of bottles of Occur! from when Avon re-released some of their classics over 20 years ago. (My fridge is groaning with perfume…) It always seemed to me like Avon’s version of the original Miss Dior. In 2011, Victoria wrote that the current version of Intimate (Revlon, 1955) was “much closer to Miss Dior than the current Miss Dior”. After reading your comment, I googled Occur! on the Fragrantica website and saw that at least seven people have said that it reminds them of Intimate. It’s funny how perceptions of fragrance can go around in circles!

      I was given a powder spray of Intimate as a teenager, and once I’d used that up, I bought a bottle of it that I used during my first year at university. (I’ve never seen a perfume powder spray, in any fragrance range, since.)

      I agree about the colour of Occur!

      With kind regards,
      Tourmaline November 4, 2019 at 12:21pm Reply

      • David: Hi Tourmaline! I will never forget the first time I smelled vintage Miss Dior. I found an old bottle at at flea market in São Paulo, where i currently live. I was new to perfume and I thought it was a perfume meant for young girls (because of the word “Miss”). It completely shocked me. I had never smelled something like that before. Now, I gravitate to fragrances like that–Gres, Bandit, Scandal….I also like some current powerhouses like Hard Leather by Laurent Mazzone, even though they really don’t work in the Brazil heat (but SP does get chilly in the winter months). I will have to look for Intimate. I’m sure I can find it here. Avon has long been available in Brazil.
        Thank you for your response to my comment. And thank you, Victoria, for such an interesting question. November 4, 2019 at 1:55pm Reply

        • Tourmaline: Hi David,

          How wonderful, finding a bottle of vintage Miss Dior at a flea market! The first time I smelled it was in 1981, when I was 19 and taking time out from university (whilst deciding to change from English, French and teaching, to psychology). I worked for two years as the receptionist to a suburban GP, and his wife, who was in her late twenties, always wore Miss Dior. (I knew this because she left a large spray bottle of it in one of the desk drawers.) She had previously done the admin role herself, and she was frequently in and out of the office to do the banking and various other tasks. She was rather heavy-handed with the fragrance, always announcing her presence and leaving a strong cloud of it through the four rooms of the surgery.

          I recall thinking, at the time, that this rich scent suited the woman well, with her brown hair, tanned skin and energy. Unfortunately, she also had a rather mercurial temper (as did her husband…) and I was a little nervous around her. Consequently, for some years after I finished working there, the smell of Miss Dior induced feelings of anxiety. The same thing happened with her husband’s signature scent – Paco Rabanne.

          For the record, my two years at the surgery were the first of my four years wearing Y, by YSL, my first French fragrance, chosen with great care due to my limited funds.

          I must try Hard Leather; based on Fragrantica’s list of notes, it sounds intriguing.

          In March, I bought my first bottle of Intimate since 1980, and it smelled very familiar. I found a 108ml bottle of the EDT for only $18.00 in Australian dollars, on priceritemart.com.au. Note that, instead of being by Revlon, it was manufactured by Jean Philippe, but it was in the familiar lavender box. I checked the website, and it said that people living overseas can contact to enquire about postage to their country, however I hope you’ll be able to find it closer to home.

          Today I wore Occur! on one wrist and Intimate on the other. Intimate is lighter and sweeter, but both are lovely.

          With kind regards,
          Tourmaline November 5, 2019 at 8:36am Reply

          • David: I found an old bottle of Y at a Sao Paulo flea market!… Order a sample of Hard Leather before committing to a full bottle. It is pure ranch, skank….you can soften it up with a rose fragrance, though…..your name sent me down a rabbit hole because there are quite a few fragrances called Tourmaline. November 6, 2019 at 10:33am Reply

            • Tourmaline: Hi David,

              Another great find! Y is a lovely classic.

              I’ll give Hard Leather a sniff (I hope I can smell the rum), but I’m unlikely to buy a bottle.

              Tourmaline is my pen name for writing comments on BdJ. I chose it because I love precious (and semi-precious) gems, and one of my favourites is tourmaline, which comes in every colour. My favourites are the pinks, the reds and the so-called “watermelon tourmaline”, which is pink in the middle and green around the edges.

              This must sound ludicrous, but although I’ve been commenting on BdJ since March of 2014, I was unaware that there were any fragrances named Tourmaline! I have now looked on Fragrantica and read about a few of them. Two were released after I began commenting, but the one I’d particularly like to check out – by Charriol – was released in 2010. It sounds as though it might suit a pale-skinned blonde.

              Thanks so much for filling my shameful perfume knowledge gap!

              With kind regards,
              Tourmaline (in this instance, the red-faced version!) November 7, 2019 at 3:55am Reply

              • David: I am really curious about Black Tourmaline by Oliver Durbano. i have heard many good things about all the fragrances in his mineral/precious stone collection….Hard Leather does have a slight rum note, but it’s slight. The barnyard is real. But the dry down is so warm and cozy. November 8, 2019 at 1:19pm Reply

                • Tourmaline: Hmmm, at some stage I should sample the mineral/precious stone collection you have mentioned. November 8, 2019 at 1:49pm Reply

  • Klaas: Well, Rembrandt was a master of chiaroscuro, the dramatic interplay of light and dark in a painting. I’d be looking for a fragrance that provokes the same effect in a perfume. In this case I’d think of something with oud for its dark, carnal, animalic aspects, but also pierced by something much lighter, like rose, saffron or even citrus (mandarin?). Oud by Kurkdjian comes to my mind, or De Nicolai Incence Oud. One of the Colonia Ouds by Aqua di Parma maybe? November 4, 2019 at 11:35am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    This is indeed a beautiful painting, and so moving. Hail Rembrandt!

    I am imagining a fragrance with rose for Batsheba’s love for her husband, frankincense and myrrh for the king, iris for melancholy, and some potentially irritating ingredients to express the poor lady’s frustration as she swears under her breath – perhaps pink pepper, for example, along with some dry and smoky woods to balance the other notes (she needs to think clearly, after all…).

    As for fragrances that have already been created, I would suggest the following two relatively modern ones.

    – Loulou (Cacharel, 1987 – the original version that I recall) – the rich, soft oriental with a raspy note, the latter being like the thorn in one’s side, or the agony of a tough decision;

    – Black (Bulgari, 1998) – with the sweet amber note being Batsheba’s loving thoughts of her husband, the refined floral note being her thoughts of King David, and the somewhat bitter rubber note being her thoughts about the difficult decision she must make. (I must give a nod to Luca Turin’s review of this scent, the gist of which has stayed with me for many years.)

    Thank you for another enjoyable perfumery exercise!

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline November 4, 2019 at 12:17pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Apologies for my spelling of Bathsheba. Also, to clarify further, I was thinking of the rubber note in Black as representing not only the lady’s irritation at having to make such a difficult decision, but also the very necessity of the decision – the moment when the rubber hits the road! November 5, 2019 at 12:21am Reply

  • Muriel: Hello Victoria and all,
    Poor Bathsheba, she seems so sad and lost in her thoughts…
    and there she sits, naked, defenseless… while there is this oppluent, golden piece of cloth in the background… If I were to select a perfume to match this painting, I would go for Faubourg 24, which to me smells a bit like a dark closed room, and at the same time is very elegant. I also like to think that a leathery scent would go well with the painting.

    Thanks a lot for this great exercise! November 4, 2019 at 3:16pm Reply

  • N: Shalimar or No 22 November 4, 2019 at 4:51pm Reply

  • Cassieflower: She looks so melancholic that I can only think Mitsouko. November 4, 2019 at 6:59pm Reply

    • Clouzot: Agreed! It’s somber and heady -seemingly her mood and the painting capturing the intimate moment November 7, 2019 at 10:50pm Reply

  • Debby: I was also going to say Salome, but I’ll now offer her tamer sister, Theo Fennel Scent. Shocking also springs to mind, as does Montana Parfum de Peau.
    What a wonderful painting, there is a knowingness there, but also humility. Perhaps also Knowing? Definitely a chypre as others have suggested. November 4, 2019 at 7:12pm Reply

  • rachel: Bois De Violette because it is deep and somewhat melancholy. I hate to say it but it is the prefect funeral perfume for me. If I am not mistaken I got the idea from Victoria. It allows you to think clearly somehow and encourages you to feel. It is a really beautiful scent. November 4, 2019 at 8:36pm Reply

  • rickyrebarco: I agree with a previous poster, melancholy and beautiful Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue. November 4, 2019 at 10:22pm Reply

  • Inma: AG Musc nomade lawyered with an opulent and decadent rose. November 5, 2019 at 6:13am Reply

  • Jeanne: For Her in the black bottle. November 5, 2019 at 10:27am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: I’ll say, she would have refused to adorn herself with perfume or jewels or finery. She was in a great moral quandary (especially in those days) and she knew that. Nobody knows what she may have privately felt to go to David, but she would consent to an act, that in those days would have been met with capital punishment. Therefore, she would have had to protest in some way or other: best to go bare: no perfume! November 5, 2019 at 12:53pm Reply

  • Sapphire: Shalimar for sure. November 6, 2019 at 9:45pm Reply

  • ewewhojane: Guerlain Angelique Noire seems to suit the mood of the painting. November 7, 2019 at 10:47pm Reply

  • Aurora: I think I would pair Encens Flamboyant with the painting, which is really contemplative. November 9, 2019 at 11:35am Reply

  • Fazal: vintage Opium edt. Opium is not just a masterpiece but also seems the kind of perfume that would have been suited to that era since resins appear in many ancient perfume formulas.

    Moreover, if you remember the Opium ad with Sophie Dahl, her body shape is closer to Bathsheba in this Rembrandt painting than to modern ideals of perfect women physiques as represented in the mass media. November 9, 2019 at 5:34pm Reply

  • Pocketvenus: I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s responses! For me, I’m reminded of Amouage’s Myths Woman. Both have a cool, wet air to them. They also both suggest melancholy and intimacy to me. November 11, 2019 at 11:23pm Reply

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