Esther before King Ahasuerus - Martin Van Meytens (1695-1770)
Dimensions out of frame: Height: 233cm Width: 170cm
Dimensions with frame : Height : 248cm Width : 192cm
A variant of the present composition, with many differences, is in the Brukenthal National Museum, Sibiu (see: B. Lisholm, Martin van Meytens d.y. Hans Liv och hans Verk, 1974, p. 112, no. 212, pl. 29) .
Appendix 1 - 2
Sale, Christie's, London, December 11, 1987, lot 27 (as The Property of a Gentleman)
Kensington Fine Arts, London, 1988, where purchased by the present owner
The fainting of Esther before King Ahasuerus has been subscribed to since the Renaissance by the greatest European artists (Veronese, Artemisia Gentileschi, Nicolas Poussin, Jan Boeckhorst, Antoine Coypel, Jean-François de Troyes, Tiepolo). The subject offers painters the opportunity to invent a palatial architecture, to create sumptuous costumes, and to imagine the characters living under the reign of the Persian king Ahasuerus, in the fifth century BC.
The drama is related in the Catholic tradition by the Old Testament and in the Jewish tradition by Chapter XV of the Book of Esther. Martin Mytens is particularly interested in depicting the figure of Esther, renowned for her great beauty, but also the entourage of other women, including a very Caravaggio-like old woman.
The young Jewish woman and orphan is the wife of Ahasuerus to whom she tries to intercede for the fate of her people condemned to death by a close royal advisor. By appearing before him without invitation, she breaks the laws of the palace and also risks death. Esther faints at his feet. The king, moved by this spectacle, grants his pardon and clemency to all the Jews of Persia.
The art of the painter lies in creating a sumptuous universe, worthy of the great courts of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Martin Meytens abandons the happy ending of the story to focus on the description of the fainting; painting the beauty of Esther frozen a few moments before her convulsion, before her loss of balance. The distress of the young woman is palpable. Her gaze is distant. The women in the background urge her to do her duty. The richness of her jeweled garments and the brilliance of her jewels envelop Esther in a luminous halo, while in the background the columns and the coat of arms of the palace stand out.
Martin van Meytens was born and baptized in Stockholm. He was the son of the painter Martin Meytens the Elder, who had moved from The Hague to Sweden around 1677. He left early in his career for a long study trip. He visited London, Paris and Vienna, then lived and worked for a long time in Italy (Rome, Turin). At first he painted small miniature portraits in enamel, and he only switched to oil painting around 1730, after moving to Vienna. There he became very popular as a portraitist in court and aristocratic circles. In 1732 he became a court painter and in 1759 director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt was his protégé.
Martin van Meytens was one of the most important Austrian painters of representative Baroque courtly portraiture and, thanks to his pupils and followers, his influence remained alive and widespread throughout the Empire for a long time. His personal virtues, his varied interests, his erudition and his pleasant manners were highly appreciated by his contemporaries.
Unsigned oil on canvas with old lining, the painting was cleaned in the 1990s. Some restoration in the minor decoration is to be noted; Middle left on the throne and on the drapery above it. The rest of the painting is very sound and the colors remain intact.
12 500 €