OIL PAINTING: Esther before Ahasuerus, 1547-48
The subject of the painting of Tintoretto is taken from the Book of Esther which exists in two versions: the first of Hebraic origin as part of the Old Testament and the second of Greek origin in the Apocrypha. It is the second more emotional account that seems to have been known to Tintoretto. He has depicted the dramatic moment (15:2-16) when Esther, the Jewish queen of the Persian emperor, Ahasuerus, intervenes on behalf of her people in Persia who were threatened with death in a proclamation issued by the chief minister, Haman. Esther attended the court in regal dress in order to appeal to Ahasuerus. 'But as she was speaking, she fell fainting. And the King was agitated, and all his servants sought to comfort her' (15:7). Ahasuerus stands on the left at the top of the flight of steps at the foot of which Esther kneels, supported by her entourage. Following this intercession and further deliberation Ahasuerus overrules Haman, who was himself hanged as a consequence of his ill-judged policy. The story of Esther was often treated as a prefiguration of the role of the Virgin in the Last Judgement.