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Gyselaer, Philip
Vashti before Ahasuerus ? Vashti before Ahasuerus ?
Around 1643 Around 1643

This painting has traditionally been interpreted as a depiction of Queen Esther before Ahasuerus. As recounted in the biblical book bearing her name, Esther rescues her people, the Israelites, by denouncing to her husband Ahasuerus, King of the Medes and Persians, the decree engineered by his courtier Haman to have all the Jews in the kingdom exterminated. This painting might depict the scene when Esther first gains an audience with Ahasuerus with the purpose of inviting him and Haman to a banquet, at which she will deliver her protest (Esther 6:6–8). Ahasuerus reclines on his throne, his brow furrowed—possibly as he considers the invitation. The man in armour, tugging at the King’s arm, could be Haman, reacting in suspicion. However, the biblical text does not mention any doubt on Haman’s part, only joy at the flattery of such an invitation. Even less likely is the possibility that the painting shows the later episode when Esther accuses Haman (7:6), as there is no evidence of the banquet that she is said to have prepared. Alternatively, the artist may have depicted a moment right at the start of the Book of Esther (1:12), when Vashti, Ahasuerus’s previous queen, refuses the King’s command to appear before him and his guests during a grand feast. According to the text, he specifies that she wear her royal crown, an order traditionally interpreted as implying that she wear nothing else. Her refusal is thus not altogether surprising. Although the text does not have Vashti appear before Ahasuerus with her refusal, it appears likely that the artist has conjured such a confrontation in this painting. This would certainly account for the emotions displayed by the main figures: the frowning consternation of Ahasuerus, the anxious and hostile expressions of the courtiers, the confident pride of Vashti.

 
Gyselaer, Philip
Antwerp, Belgium 1634-1635 (active) Antwerp, Belgium 1634-1635 (active)
Vashti before Ahasuerus ? Vashti before Ahasuerus ?
Around 1643 Around 1643
Oil on panel Oil on panel
47.0 x 62.9 cm
Gift of Alfred and Isabel Bader, 2013 Gift of Alfred and Isabel Bader, 2013
56-003.18

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