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Sebastiano Ricci, Esther before Ahasuerus

Key facts
Full title Esther before Ahasuerus
Artist Sebastiano Ricci
Artist dates 1659 - 1734
Date made probably 1730-4
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 47 × 33 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by the Misses Cohen as part of the John Samuel collection, 1906
Inventory number NG2101
Location Room 39
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Esther before Ahasuerus
Sebastiano Ricci

In this painting we see Esther, the Jewish heroine of the Old Testament, presenting herself to Ahasuerus, King of Persia, in an attempt to save the Jewish population of Persia, who he had condemned to death. In doing so, she risked her life: approaching the King without his permission was punishable by death.

Ahasuerus points his golden sceptre towards Esther, a sign that she can speak. As he does so, however, she faints; her attendants rush to support her. The figure at the lower right may be the king’s advisor Haman, who had encouraged him to carry out the massacre. Ahasuerus ultimately accepted Esther’s plea, saving the Jewish community.

The loose handling of the paint and the small scale suggest that this was a preliminary sketch for a larger work, although no such finished painting is known. It was probably painted towards the end of Ricci’s career and shortly before his death in 1734.

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