Follower of Jean-François de Troy
Esther’s fainting before Ahasuerus
France, second half of the 18th century
Oil on canvas, cm 50 x 59
The valuable painting, made in oil on canvas, depicts The Fainting of Esther before Ahasuerus.
Esther is a character in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. There are two versions of Esther’s story, one traditional in Hebrew and another in Greek; both tell the same story, however the names, dates and places are different. The Greek text amplifies the content of the original Hebrew and makes its religious meaning explicit.
Esther is the daughter of Abigail of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the two tribes that constituted the Kingdom of Judah before its destruction by the Babylonians and the deportation, in 597, of the 'elite of the kingdom in the provinces of the Persian empire. A young Jewish woman, she is a heroic figure, because, thanks to her courage, she saved her people subjected to persecution because of the hostilities of Aman, minister of the King of Persia.
Esther, upon the death of her parents, was adopted by her cousin Mordecai, a court dignitary. After the king’s rejection of his wife, Mordecai introduced his cousin Esther to the court of Ahasuerus. The king soon fell in love with her and, while ignoring her origins, chose her as his bride. When Haman the Prime Minister decided to exterminate all the Jews of the kingdom, Mordecai, who always watched over Esther, urged her to appear before the king to intercede for her countrymen.
The scene here depicted recalls the dramatic moment when Esther, when she went before Ahasuerus, fainted in front of the king angry for his audacity. In fact, anyone who dared to appear spontaneously before the king was punished with the death penalty. Nevertheless, Ahasuerus, impressed by the audacity of his young and beautiful wife, allowed her to make his request. Thanks to Esther’s intercession, therefore, the edict was cancelled.
In this painting we can observe the episode described in the lower half of the canvas. And Esther fainted in the arms of two maidens, and immediately Ahasuerus rose up from the throne beside her, and looked with astonishment and concern at her, her lifeless wife. With her left hand she holds the golden sceptre she puts on Esther’s shoulders, indicating that she wants to listen to her, saving her life. The overcoming of this difficulty underlines the heroic action of Esther who, in order to contribute to the salvation of her people, is willing to pay in person. Behind Ahasuerus, some court characters attend with pathos to the scene, some raising hands, others leaning out of the session with amazement, all contributing to enhance the great drama of the moment described. The characters involved are portrayed in the splendor of royalty. Ahasuerus wears a coat of fur and a turban with central gemstones; Esther wears a silk dress and wears pearls and jewels.
In the background is described the rich palace of Ahasuerus: a large curtain on the left moves the architecture creating a fifth for the main scene. On the right, twisted and Doric columns enhance the magnificence of the palace.
On the far right, two men are depicted. One holds with his right hand a paper document that wants to remember the imminent threat, Aman and the edict itself that will soon be cancelled.
This painting is certainly inspired by a print of the engraving by Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet (Abbeville 1731 - 1797) taken from a painting by Jean-François de Troy (1679 - 1752). Jean-François de Troy prepared between 1736 and 1742 seven cartoons with Le Storie di Ester for the production of Gobelin’s tapestries. The one depicting The Collapse of Esther, preserved in the Grand Palais of the Musée du Louvre, was completed in 1737.
The author of the painting in question decides to work on a vertical format compared to the horizontal one of the engraving and the painting by Jean-François de Troy. He therefore chooses to slightly sacrifice the male figure on the left, but especially the three characters on the right. In the engraving we can better recognize the figure of Aman, sitting and holding the scroll of the edict, surrounded by two other men advisors who follow the scene in the foreground.
The print of the engraving is mirrored to that of the cardboard by Jean-François de Troy as Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet engraved to the positive, but the printing process, foreseeing the overturning of the metal plate (traditionally copper) placed under the press, creates an image symmetrical to the original.
Jean-François de Troy (Paris, 27 January 1679 - Rome, 26 January 1752), inventor of the composition of the painting and author of the cartoons for the tapestries, was encouraged by his father, François de Troy (1645-1750), well-known portraitist, to spend a few years in Italy, to learn the art of painting. Jean-François spent seven years there, until 1706 and returned to Paris, was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris in 1708. Between 1724 and 1737 he worked at Versailles and Fontainebleau. He was active in making several designs for tapestries and tapestries of the Gobelins Manufactory. In 1727 he painted the canvas The Rest of Diana (now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Nancy), with which he won the 1st Prize of the Great Competition organized by Duke d'Antin and François Lemoyne. In 1738 he was appointed Director of the 'Academy of France in Rome, where he spent the rest of his life and where he had many students, including the Parisian painter Marianne Loir. In 1744 he was Prince of the Academy of San Luca.
Several autograph or attributed versions of Esther’s Fainting are known today. Some are almost identical, while others propose a different approach and setting. The version used for the tapestries also had different luck. Some paintings from the cartoon and the engraving by Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet bear witness to this. The print of this engraving was also diffused and re-proposed and the painting studied here is a valuable testimony of it.
Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet, famous engraver, was born in Abbeville in 1731. He went to Paris and studied with Charles Dupuis and Laurent Cars. His first way was bold and free, while later he distinguished himself for prints made with great sharpness and delicacy. Beauvarlet was married in 1761 to Catherine Jeanne Françoise Deschamps, who possessed a certain skill in the technique of engraving. Unfortunately she died in 1769 at the age of 31. Beauvarlet remarried in 1770, but was widowed again in 1779. Eight years later, in 1787, he married Marie Catherine Riollet (Paris 1755-1788), who, like his first wife, was an engraver. Beauvarlet was the king’s engraver and had the workshop in Rue St. Jacques in Paris, where he died in 1797.
In conclusion, the author of this painting must be sought in the French context, among the followers of Jean-François de Troy, active in the second half of the eighteenth century.
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