François Clouet, the son of a Netherlandish artist, became court painter to the French kings Francis I, Henry II and Charles IX. In this Renaissance portrait Clouet has depicted a female nude, whose identity is unknown, at her bath. The bather is seated in her tub, which is lined with a white cloth and hung on both sides with regal crimson curtains to ward off the cold. Her left hand draws back the bath sheet revealing the artist's name inscribed below, while her right hand rests on a covered board that displays a sumptuously rendered still life. Slightly behind the bather a young boy reaches for some grapes as a smiling wet nurse suckles a baby. In the background, a maid is seen holding a metal pitcher of bath water as more water is heated in the fireplace. The allusion is to a happy, healthy home.
The masklike symmetry of the bather's face makes exact identification difficult; scholars have suggested that her aristocratic features indicate that she is one of several royal mistresses, most notable among them Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of Henry II. It is possible that the nude, a Venus type, represents ideal beauty rather than a specific individual. The contrast of the smoothly rendered nude figure to the intricate surface details of the fruit, draperies, and jewelry, presents a union of Flemish and Italian motifs that characterized French courtly art of the sixteenth century.