Although penitent saints dominate Rembrandt's depictions of human frailty throughout his career, in his later years he also turned his attention to two guilt-ridden figures from the Old Testament. One of these was King David, whose summons to Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, was the subject of the pictures with which we began. Conceiving a child by her, and wishing to make her his wife, David ordered Uriah to be placed 'in the forefront of the hottest battle . . . that he may be smitten, and die.' When a messenger arrived bringing him news of Uriah's death David was stricken with remorse and admonished by the prophet Nathan, sent by the Lord, who punished the king by decreeing the unborn child's early death. David then repented for his sins through fasting and weeping 'and lay all night upon the earth' (II Samuel: 11-12).
David Hearing the News of Uriah's Deat shows the messenger before David as Nathan waits patiently in the wings. Startled by the messenger's announcement, David recoils and glares at him, Rembrandt brilliantly evoking the king's guilt by the empty chair and space behind him. Having risen to greet his guest, he is suddenly stopped in his tracks.