The messenger set out; he came and told David all that Joab had sent him to say. The messenger said to David, ‘First the men prevailed against us and sallied out against us into the open; then we drove them back up to the entrance to the gate. But the archers shot at your men from the wall and some of Your Majesty’s men fell; your servant Uriah the Hittite also fell.’ (2 Samuel 11-23-24)

Rembrandt has sketched the report of Uriah’s death with David, in full royal garb, exhibiting a degree of surprise at hearing the news. His expression can be contrasted with that of the prophet Nathan who stands on the sidelines. His countenance is full of sadness, perhaps at the tragic death of Uriah, as well as the circumstances which occasioned it. Note the empty chair in the far left, symbolic of the royal chair, which David has abdicated. The messenger enters carrying Uriah’s sword and belongings in order to establish the identity of the victim. The irony is palpable; there is no doubt in David’s mind who was killed, since it was he who ordered the liquidation.

Dr. Bryna Jocheved Levy

Photo courtesy of Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam.