Edward Armitage, R.A. 1817 - 1896
The Festival of Esther
Photo: R.A.
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The Festival of Esther, 1865
Oil on canvas, 1200 X 1830 mm
Diploma Work given by Edward Armitage, R.A., accepted 1873
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Esther, wife of the Persian King Ahasuerus, concealed the fact that she was Jewish from her husband. The king's chief minister, Haman hated Esther's adoptive father, Mordecai. In order to kill him he convinced Ahasuerus to issue a decree of execution against the Jews. On discovering this Esther held a banquet where she revealed that she was Jewish and pleaded for her people.

The King briefly left the banquet and returned to find Haman kneeling before the queen. Believing that he was attempting to seduce Esther, Ahasuerus had Haman executed. The Jews established a new annual festival on the 14th day of the month of Adar (February/March) known as 'Purim' or 'The Festival of Esther'.

In his painting Edward Armitage, R.A. shows the angry King ordering Haman to his death. Haman begs Esther for mercy, as guards cover his head and drag him from the royal table. Mordecai stands behind the table looking down upon the treacherous Haman. The queen's pale skin and white costume denote her regal status and her innocence. Although the scene is a dramatic one, the tension is measured in keeping with Armitage's classical principles. Understated details such as Haman's overturned goblet and the carpet's flipped up corner serve to signal unrest.

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