Our painting represents the final banquet organised by Queen Esther when she exposed prime minister Haman’s plan to kill all the Jews in the Persian empire. Haman begs Esther for her help, but at right appears a buffoon holding a rope (Haman will be hanged) and a skeleton with an hourglass (indicating his time, his life is over). Behind Haman stands the angry King Ahasuerus.
The Book of Esther, which is part of both the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) and the Christian Old Testament is a complicated story set in the 5th century BC in the Persian capital of the Achaemenid empire, Susa.
Having exiled Queen Vashti King Ahasuerus (identified as Xerxes I) married a beautiful girl, Esther, whom he did not know to be Jewish. Following the Babylonian Captivity Jews were still living in the Persian empire.
At the demand of his prime minster, Haman, the king decided to wipe out all Jews within Persia, because “they are useless people inclined to disloyalty”. Haman was of Amalekite origin, a people who in the past had been partly wiped out by the Jews.
Another Jew, Mordechai, who was a minster of the king, discovered this plan and told it to his niece, Queen Esther. During a banquet she confronted her husband, the king, and the prime minister, Haman, with this information, telling them she is Jewish.
Infuriated King Ahasuerus leaves the table, the Queen goes to her apartments, followed by Haman, who begs her for help. The unfortunate prime minster stumbles and falls onto the queen who sits in bed. At that moment the king comes in, thinks that Haman tries to rape his wife and takes a new decision: Haman is to be hanged and the Jews are now allowed to kill the Amalekite (Haman’s people) within the Persian empire.
Jewish people commemorate this day in their annual Purim holiday.
Apart from this painting there is only one other signed work known by van Haestar, who was active in The Hague until 1675. It must date from circa 1650.
About Leendert Maertensz. van Haestar
Birthplace unknown, circa 1604/1624 – 1675 The Hague
According to B.A. Renckens his birthplace might have been Haastrecht (SE of Utrecht), as he is also mentioned several times as “Leendert van Haestrecht” in tax papers in The Hague (“de Haagsche Cohieren”).
Rare painter of religious and mythological themes and of portraits.
It is not known whom he studied painting with.
Van Haestar is first mentioned in 1639 and two years later he joined the Painter’s Guild.
He got married in 1643. The couple had four children, born between 1653 and 1657. His two sons became goldsmiths, like their uncle Floris (a brother of our painter).
He owned several houses in The Hague, which suggest a certain degree of wealth.
At his death in 1675 the portrait painter Pieter Nason (1612 – 1688/90) was appointed guardian of his youngest daughter, Swaentje, until 1679. Nason often portrayed foreign ambassadors and officers. He stopped painting around 1675.
Very few paintings are known by van Haestar. There is only one other signed work known, an early adoration of the kings, dated 1640, after Rubens, but also influenced by Bartholomeus Breenberg. It shares with our pianting the warm tonalities.
A portrait of (the then) Prince William III of Orange (from 1672 onwards king of England, Ireland and Scotland) is only known in engraving made after it by Jonas Suyderhoeff.
About the subject of our painting
Esther was a Hebrew girl born in Persia. After her marriage with King Ahasuerus she became Queen of Persia, living in the capital, Susa. Ahasuerus is usually identified with the Achaemenid king Xerxes I, who ruled between 486 BC and 465 BC. Xerxes I is known in Western history for having beaten King Leonidas I of Sparta at the Battle of Thermopylae, he then burned down Athens and was finally beaten at the Battle of Salamis.
The story of the Book of Esther is rather strange. It is the only Book in the Bible, in the Old Testament, that originally did not mention God: additions in the Greek and Latin translations are accepted by Catholics, but not by Protestants.
Esther was an orphan raised by her cousin Mordechai, who became a minister of King Ahasuerus. Mordechai had saved the king after he discovered and exposed a plot to assassinate the king.
After Mordechai refused to bow down, actually to prostrate, for him the new prime minster, Haman, decides to kill Mordechai and all Jews in the empire. Interesting detail: Haman was of Amalekite origin, a people who in the past had been partly wiped out by the Hebrew Kings Saul and David.
King Ahasuerus gave his permission for this elimination of all Persian Jews. But when Mordechai finds out about this new plot he tells it to his niece, Esther.
The Book of Esther is build around banquets. During the final banquet Esther invites the King and his prime minster. King Ahasuerus wants to offer something, anything, to his wife. She reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to kill all Jews. Enraged the king leaves the table, Haman begs Esther to help him and in despair even falls upon her in her bed.
Just then the King returns, he thinks Haman is raping his wife and orders that Haman will be hanged, actually from the gallow where Haman had planed to hang Mordechai.
Then the King reverses his first order: the Jews are allowed to attack Haman’s men and people. The Jews throughout the Persian empire mobilized and killed the Amalekite, the hereditary enemies who wanted to kill them, among them the ten sons of Haman. To commemorate these events Jews celebrate on the 14th or on the 15th of Adar Purim, their most joyous holiday.
The story of Esther was popular in Dutch painting, for the Dutch identified their nation with the pious Esther, who fought against the tyrannical prime minister Haman. For the Dutch Haman would stand for Spain, a proud nation that they had fought for 80 years (1568 – 1648) to finally obtain their independence.
When the high-ranking and virulently anti-Semitic German Nazi, Julius Streicher, was about to be executed by hanging in Nuremberg, October 16th 1946, he not only screamed out “Heil Hitler”, but also “Purimfest 1946” (Purim celebration 1946).
About our painting
In his article about our painter Renckens rightly points out to the influence of Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne in the appearance of a skeleton personifying death in our painting.
Van de Venne (Delft 1589 – 1662 The Hague) was a sharp observer, a painter, a book illustrator, and a poet with a good sense of humour. Van de Venne’s career was divided over 2 towns: Middelburg and The Hague. He lived in Middelburg from 1614 until 1625 and in The Hague from 1625 until his death in 1662. In The Hague van de Venne mainly made monochrome grisaille-paintings (the earliest ones date from 1621). These were very often satirical, concentrating on human folly, bearing a moralistic painted title. These paintings and the engravings made after them sometimes held skeletons, which are otherwise very rare in 17th century Dutch painting.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a marvellously decorative and theatrical scene by a very rare painter.
Because skeletons and court jesters appear only very rarely in 17th century Dutch paintings.