Esther Before Ahasuerus is a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, currently on display in gallery 637 of the Metropolitan Museum. It is an 82 by 107-inch canvas depicting an episode of the biblical Book of Esther. In this Baroque painting, Esther and King Ahasuerus are depicted as contemporary 17th-century nobles. The use of color draws attention to Esther herself, as the brightest part of the image on the left side.
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Ahasuerus, depicted as wearing foppish dark green and grey clothes, associated with theatrical, comedic characters, contrasts heavily with her even though a breadth of dark background separates them. Esther seems to have fainted, supported by the two women behind her, and Ahasuerus’ posture is leaned forward, suggesting that he is getting up from his throne. Next to his knee, the head of a black boy is visible, painted over.
Artemisia Gentileschi is a 17th-century Italian painter famous for her works depicting Biblical or mythical characters and an expressive, realistic style. Most of her paintings center on women, often in biblical scenes with violent themes, such as Judith and Jael. She is also known for her rape trial against the artist Agostino Tassi, during which she was questioned under torture and had her hands seriously injured.
Directly to the right of Esther Before Ahasuerus is a self-portrait, circa 1647, by Salvador Rosa, a 39-inch by 31, and a quarter-inch canvas. It depicts the painter wearing a wreath of cypress, and inscribing a skull with the greek words “Behold, whither, eventually.” The words visible on a sheet of paper next to the skull explain that the work is dedicated to Rosa’s friend Giovanni Ricciardi. Some scholars argue that the man depicted is Ricciardi or an unnamed philosopher rather than Rosa himself. Like the Gentileschi painting, it has a dark background; only the artist’s face, hands, and the skull he is working with stand out. It is a somber, melancholy piece musing on the themes of death and friendship.