For the throne, Van Staveren was clearly inspired by the legendary throne of King Solomon, described in Kings 1:18–20 as being covered in gold and having six steps and the figure of a lion on each side of the throne. Because of their similar subject matter, this throne often appears both in scenes of the Queen of Sheba before King Solomon and of Esther before Ahasuerus. For an elaborate depiction of the throne, which was probably not known to Van Staveren but illustrates the pictorial tradition, see Artus Quellinus, The Queen of Sheba before King Solomon, oil on canvas, 151 x 237 cm, Vienna, Liechtenstein Collection. Quellinus even included the multiple lions that allegedly stood next to Solomon’s throne. Already in the sixteenth century, Maarten van Heemskerck (1498–1574) incorporated elements of the Bible’s description of Solomon’s throne, especially the lion armrests and the six steps, in his 1564 engraving Esther before Ahasuerus (see fig. 4).
For a similar dating, see Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 6 vols. (Landau, 1983–), 6:3743, 4066, no. 2447, who makes a stylistic comparison between Esther before Ahasuerus, Van Staveren’s 1640 Circumcision of Christ (fig. 1), then in the Galerie Caretto-Turin, and his 1646 Noli me Tangere in the Cevat Collection.
Although the painting was said to be monogrammed by Gerrit Dou when it was sold at auction in 2007, this work is now rightly attributed to Van Staveren. There is no reason to question the authenticity of the date.
The first painting was sold at Christie’s, New York, 4 April 2007, as no. 53. For the second of these paintings (Rijksmuseum), see Eric Jan Sluijter et al., Leidse Fijnschilders: Van Gerrit Dou tot Frans van Mieris de Jonge (Exh. cat. Leiden, Museum De Lakenhal) (Zwolle, 1988), 227, no. 77. Sluijter dates this painting to the mid-1640s based on a stylistic comparison with Staveren’s two paintings with hermits, one in the Národni Galerie in Prague, dated 1644, and the other in the Statens Museum in Copenhagen, dated 1650.
See Piet Bakker’s biography of Jan van Staveren in this catalogue, in which he discusses the uncertainty surrounding our knowledge of the relationship between Dou and Van Staveren. Although the similarities between Dou’s and Van Staveren’s work suggest a teacher-pupil relationship, both artists were around the same age.
For instance, in ca. 1635 Dou included a closed, dark blue parasol in the background of his Scholar Interrupted at His Writing in the present collection (see GD-102), and an open parasol in his Self-Portrait, ca. 1645, oil on panel, 12.4 x 8.3 cm, Kremer Collection, and Quack, 1652, oil on panel, 112.4 x 83.4 cm, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, inv. St.4. See Dominique Surh’s entry on GD-102 for a symbolic reading of the parasol. In Esther before Ahasuerus, Van Staveren appears to have included the parasol only as a reference to the exotic locale. For other paintings with scenes set in the Far East and including parasols, see, for instance, Moyses van Wtenbrouck, Moses Found by the Daughter of Pharaoh, 1623, oil on panel, 50 x 74.5 cm, sale, Servarts, Brussels, 11 September 1999, no. 414, and Jan Victor’s much later Portrait of a Family in Eastern Attire, 1670, oil on canvas, 99 x 133.5 cm, sale, Sotheby’s, London, 3 July, 1997, no. 225.
Gerrit Dou, Portrait of Johan Wittert van der Aa, 1646, oil on panel, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Dou continued to use this motif throughout the rest of his career. See also The Doctor, 1653, oil on panel, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum; Young Mother, 1658, oil on panel, The Hague, Mauritshuis; and Astronomer by Candlelight, ca. 1665, oil on panel, 32 x 21.1 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Interestingly, the putti in Dou’s painting are facing outward, whereas Van Staveren’s figures are seen from the back.
For a later depiction of this scene that more or less follows Heemskerck’s composition, see Jan Steen’s Esther Before Ahasuerus, ca. 1665, oil on panel, 106 x 39 cm, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, inv. 878.
See also Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “The Wrath of Ahasuerus,” in H. Perry Chapman, Wouter Th. Kloek, and Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Jan Steen, Painter and Storyteller, ed. Guido Jansen (Exh. cat. Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art; Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum) (Washington D.C., 1996), 241–44, for his discussion of Jan Steen’s painting The Wrath of Ahasuerus dated to ca. 1671–73, in which Steen’s similarly dramatic representation can be explained by the artist’s reliance on Serwouter’s play.
According to Ceneton, the Leiden University database of Dutch theater plays, there are no known copies of Jacob van Zevecote’s Esther; the 1623 edition of this play, printed in Antwerp, has copies in the Stadsbibliotheek Antwerpen and the Gent University Library. According to Ceneton, there are two copies of Nicolaes Fonteyn, Esther, ofte ’t beeldt der ghehoorsaamheid (Amsterdam, 1638), one in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (inv. F: Yi. 626), and one at the Leiden University Library (inv. 1091 D 13 : 2). The present author has not had the opportunity to consult the plays by Zevecote and Fonteyn. As for other plays about Esther written before 1650, Ceneton further lists Hester en Assverus, written by an anonymous author in around 1599, a copy of which is in the Rijksarchief in Hasselt, the Netherlands; and Joris Berckmans’s 1649 Esther, a copy of which is in the Royal Library in Brussels. See also Theodor Dunkelgrün, “Neerlands Israel: Political Theology, Christian Hebraism, Biblical Antiquarianism, and Historical Myth,” in Myth in History, History in Myth, ed. Laura Cruz and Willem Frijhoff (Leiden, 2009), 201–36, esp. n. 23, for the mention of two additional plays: Abraham de Koning’s 1618 Esther and Jacob Revius’s 1630 Haman, a Tragedy, not listed in Ceneton or Digital Library for Dutch Literature (DBNL).
Esther 5: “Mordecai sat outside the king’s gate, since he was not authorized to appear in the king’s court. Haman was not present either, but was later summoned by Ahasuerus.”
Joannes Serwouter, Hester, oft verlossing der Jooden (Hester, or the Deliverance of the Jews) (Amsterdam, 1659). According to Ceneton, the Leiden University database of Dutch theater plays, Serwouter’s play appears to have been very popular: it was reprinted five times, in 1662, 1667, 1698, 1732, and 1751.
Joannes Serwouter, Hester, oft verlossing der Jooden (Hester, or the Deliverance of the Jews) (Amsterdam, 1659), 27–30, in the third act. Without knowledge of the contents of the earlier plays by Fonteyn and Van Zevecote, however, it remains impossible to ascertain whether Thares appears in these plays as well, and thus whether Van Staveren could have known about Thares in the 1640s.
For the connection between Esther’s triumph and the Dutch victory, see, for instance, Theodor Dunkelgrün, “Neerlands Israel: Political Theology, Christian Hebraism, Biblical Antiquarianism, and Historical Myth,” Myth in History, History in Myth, ed. Laura Cruz and Willem Frijhoff (Leiden, 2009), 201–36, and Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (New York, 1987), 102–3.
The characterization of the wood is based on visual examination only.
A small wood patch has also been applied to the reverse of a knot in the central plank. The panelwork was undertaken by George Bisacca, paintings conservator, Metropolitan Museum of Art.