Esther before Ahasuerus

Accession Number

Esther before Ahasuerus

Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
oil on canvas

5 ft. 2 7/8 in. x 7 ft. 1 7/16 in. (159.6 x 217 cm);5 ft. 2 7/8 in. x 7 ft. 1 7/16 in. (159.6 x 217 cm);6 ft. 7 1/2 in. x 8 ft. 4 1/2 in. (201.93 x 255.27 cm)

Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Label copy
March 28, 2009
In this painting, the Baroque master Guercino depicts a climactic moment from the biblical Book of Esther, when the Jewish heroine risks death to save her people. To appear without summons before Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, was a capital offense. But an even more threatening royal decree compelled Esther to enter the presence of the king, who was her husband: at the suggestion of a wicked minister, Ahasuerus had proclaimed that every Jew in the realm would be slaughtered on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month of that year. In this depiction, Esther approaches Ahasuerus to convince him to rescind his command, but, overcome by fear, she faints. Moved by compassion, Ahasuerus leans forward and extends his scepter, indicating that he forgives her transgression. Guercino portrays the high emotions with consummate dignity and imparts an arresting timelessness to this scene of one woman’s courage.

Subject matter
On this grand canvas the painter Guercino has depicted the dramatic intervention of Esther, the biblical heroine, with King Ahasuerus to save her people. Compelled to rescue the Jews from a royal decree ordering their destruction, Esther appears before the king to present a petition without having been summoned, an act that was punishable by death. Esther, wearing her crown, has fainted, and Ahasuerus rather than condemning her, feels compassion, eloquently expressed by the gesture of his left hand, and extends his scepter toward her as a sign of favor.

Physical Description
A bearded man, wearing majestic red robes with a large ermine collar and a green turban surmounted by a crown, sits on a throne at left. He leans forward, holding a long thin scepter in his right hand while touching his chest with his left. Before him stand two women supporting a third, who has fainted. This third woman wears a splendid blue robe ornamented with a row of opulent clasps, a luxurious golden cloak lined with pink fabric, and a crown that seems to tilt precariously on the back of her head. The man looks intently into the face of the fainted woman, while the two women, in turn, watch his expression closely.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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crowns (headdresses)
oil paintings (visual works)

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& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted

On display

UMMA Gallery Location ➜ AMH, 1st floor ➜ 102 (Richard and Rosann Noel Gallery)