A large Flemish mid to late 17th century tapestry circa 1650-80,
depicting an episode from the Old Testament story of Esther, 636cm wide, 269cm high, (250" wide, 105.5" high).
The subject was a favourite theme, particularly amongst tapestries of the 15th-17th century. It is the central scene in a complicated story of love, death, virtue, intrigue, power and social status.
The story takes place in the fortress of Susa, an ancient city in the Persian empire. The silhouette of the fortress is partly depicted in the background of the tapestry. The powerful King of Persia, Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes, has dismissed his wife Vashti because she offended him by not appearing at a feast. In her place, the King chose Esther, a young Jewess who had been brought up by her cousin, Mordecai. Unaware that Esther is a Jewess, King Ahasuerus asked her to be his wife.
Shortly after their marriage, the King's chief minister Haman convinced Ahasuerus to distrust the Jews and to decree that all the Jews living in the Persian empire should be slaughtered. Mordecai pleaded with Esther to intercede with the King on behalf of their people. She agreed with full knowledge that to appear unbidden before the King, was to risk death. After three days of fasting, Esther entered the King's chamber. She can be seen swooning on the arms of one of her handmaidens at the lower right- a reaction to the King's initial rage at appearing before him unsummoned. Although her courage was strong, Esther was weakened by lack of food and fainted. The King took pity on her and holds out his golden sceptre to welcome her forward and show her that she is not to be punished.
The far right of the tapestry shows King Ahasuerus in his bed as he was suffering from insomnia. To help him sleep, the court records are read to him. During this time he learns of the services rendered by Mordechai and discovers a previous plot by two courtiers to assassinate Ahasuerus. He is told that Mordechai has not received any recognition for saving his life and then instructs Haman to dress Mordechai in the King's royal robes and to lead him around on his royal horse.
In due course, Haman was hanged and the Jews were spared. The repeal of the decree and thus the salvation of the Jews, is celebrated each year as the festival of Purim.