Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This painting features delicate brushstrokes, bold colors, and strong contrast. It depicts a scene from the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible (and the Old Testament). In this scene Queen Esther, who was Jewish, tells the king that his advisor is plotting to execute all Jews in Persia. By speaking up she helped to save her people from persecution.
- Art historians once believed that this painting was created by Rembrandt, but now it is attributed to Jan Lievens. Lievens painted in the Netherlands around the same time as Rembrandt and was influenced by his style.
- In the 17th century, Esther was considered both a Jewish heroine and an important symbol in the Netherlands. It was during this time that the Dutch revolted against Spain. They were being attacked for having different religious beliefs.
- The Feast of Esther is commemorated by Jewish people every year during the holiday of Purim.
In this painting Lievens captures the dramatic climax of the book of Esther. Esther, at center, reveals a plot to her husband, King Ahasuerus, that was hatched by his advisor Haman, sitting with his back to us. Haman conspired to execute all Jews in the king’s name, not knowing that Esther was Jewish and would risk her life to save her people.
In the seventeenth century, Esther was both a Jewish heroine and a symbol of the Dutch struggle against persecution from Catholic Spain. This painting, created in the midst of that struggle, celebrates both Esther and the Netherlands’ nobility and resilience.
Resources for Teachers
- Read an article about the conflict between the Netherlands and Spanish Flanders.
- Read an article about the Book of Esther.
- Read an article about the life of Jan Lievens.
Resources for Students