Esther Before Ahasuerus (1622): Artemisia Gentileschi

 Esther Before Ahasuerus (1622) Oil on Canvas by Artemisia Gentileschi; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Elinor Dorrance

Esther Before Ahasuerus (1622) Oil on Canvas by Artemisia Gentileschi; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Elinor Dorrance

Artemisia Gentileschi was the talented daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, a follower of the Baroque painter, Caravaggio (1571-1610). Orazio taught his daughter to paint as he did. He allowed her to work with him on various projects and some of her work was confused with his, until recently. As a female artist in a male dominated society, Artemisia faced endless struggle and discrimination. Traumatic events early on in her life can still be seen in many of her paintings. Artemisia, however, is known to have protested the unjust treatment of women in the 17th century through her art pieces. Only thirty four of her paintings survive today and the majority of them are based on women in Christian, Jewish, mythological or allegorical subjects.

Esther Before Ahasuerus, painted in 1622, is a very large, simple painting, almost seven by nine feet. On the right side, Ahasuerus is seated on his throne which seems to be raised above all. He is depicted as a young, dashing king who is about to rise as Esther is passing out before him. Esther, depicted on the extreme left side, is being supported by two maidens. Esther’s arm is extended outwards and she is portrayed to be pleading for the king’s assistance. In my opinion, her conniving collapse is well calculated. While she might seem vulnerable to this king, she is in control of the situation since he is “bowing” in her presence.. Esther’s head is tilted at an angle, her eyes are closed, and her eyebrows are arched in a theatrical sort of fashion. Esther is manipulating the king to rise in her presence although he is greater in power than she is.

This lavishly painted masterpiece is bleak in its simple composition. It’s dramatic lighting pays attention to many of the minute details presented. Artemisia has matched Esther’s jeweled belt and the fabric of her gown to the gold laced, satin robe the king is wearing. We can also notice that the bottom of the king’s throne is very well decorated. Overall, Artemisia Gentileschi has stunned us all with this magnificent painting.

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