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Oil painting - Esther's toilet in the harem of Ahasuerus
  • Esther's toilet in the harem of Ahasuerus
    Wolfaerts, Artus, born 1581 - died 1641
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Esther's toilet in the harem of Ahasuerus

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    ca. 1620 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Wolfaerts, Artus, born 1581 - died 1641 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on oak panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Alexander Dyce

  • Museum number:

    DYCE.10

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 6, The Lisa and Bernard Selz Gallery, case WS

Esther, at centre, is drying off after her bath in palatial surroundings, around her seven ladies also bathe and groom themselves, attended by nude male and female servants. Artus Wolfaerts [Wolffort], (1581-1641) was a Flemish painter who assisted Otto van Veen in Antwerp from ca. 1615 and whose early works are stylistically endebted to the master. Wolffort’s work was virtually unknown until the late 1970s, with some of his paintings thought to be early works by Rubens. The starting-point for the reconstruction of Wolffort’s oeuvre is the fully signed Women Bathing whose current location is unknown but of which Dyce.10 is an autograph replica. Wolfaerts works are characterised by a proto-Baroque manner which later develops into a more dramatically Baroque style. The subject of Dyce.10 is derived from the Book of Esther in the Bible which tells the story of a beautiful orphaned young Jewish woman who, deported to Bablylon, is summoned to the harem of King Ahasuerus of Persia where she is assigned seven maids and prescribed 12 months of purification, after which she is chosen to become Ahasuerus' Queen. Esther's pose in the painting is derived from a famous antique sculpture known as the Medici Venus which depicts the nude goddess, as if rising from the sea, with her head turned to the left, her hands covering her breasts and genitals.
As many as ten versions exist of Wolfaerts' composition.

Physical description

Esther, at centre, is drying off after her bath in palatial surroundings, around her seven ladies also bathe and groom themselves, attended by nude male and female servants.

Date

ca. 1620 (painted)

Artist/maker

Wolfaerts, Artus, born 1581 - died 1641 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on oak panel

Marks and inscriptions

'Wulfart'
Inscribed on an old label on back in German script

Dimensions

Height: 59.4 cm estimate, Width: 81 cm estimate, Height: 751 mm framed, Width: 966 mm framed, Depth: 64 mm framed

Object history note

Bequeathed by Rev. Alexander Dyce, 1869

The Reverend Alexander Dyce :
South Kensington Museum Art Handbooks. The Dyce and Forster Collections. With Engravings and Facsimiles. Published for the Committee of Council on Education by Chapman and Hall, Limited, 193, Piccadilly, London. 1880. Chapter I. Biographical Sketch of Mr. Dyce. pp.1-12, including 'Portrait of Mr. Dyce' illustrated opposite p.1.

Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education, South Kensington Museum.A Catalogue of the Paintings, Miniatures, Drawings... Bequeathed by The Reverend Alexander Dyce. London, 1874. A 'Note' on page v comments, 'This catalogue refers to the Art portion of the Collection bequeathed to the South Kensington Museum by the Reverend Alexander Dyce, the well-known Shakespearian scholar, who died May 15, 1869'. The Catalogue. Paintings, Miniatures, &c. by Samuel Redgrave notes of the 'Oil Paintings', 'The strength of Mr. Dyce's valuable bequest to Department of Science and Art does not lie in [this] portion ... which is in its nature of a very miscellaneous character. The collection was made apparently as objects offered themselves, and without any special design.' Dyce's main interest was in literary subjects, and this is reflected in many of the paintings he bequeathed to the V&A.

Historical significance: Artus Wolfaerts [Wolffort], (1581-1641) was a Flemish painter who assisted Otto van Veen in Antwerp from ca. 1615 and whose early works are stylistically endebted to the master. Wolfaerts executed a number of commissioned altarpieces, such as the Ascension and the Assumption of the Virgin (both c. 1617; Antwerp, St Paul) but the majority of his works were made for the open market or for private individuals. These are mainly scenes from the Life of Christ and other religious subjects, as well as mythologies. Among his workshop assistants were Pieter van Lint and Pieter van Mol. Wolffort’s work was virtually unknown until the late 1970s, with some of his paintings thought to be early works by Rubens. The starting-point for the reconstruction of Wolffort’s oeuvre is the fully signed Women Bathing whose current location is unknown but of which Dyce.10 is an autograph replica. Wolfaerts works are characterised by a proto-Baroque manner which later develops into a more dramatically Baroque style, in the Rubensian sense, as in the Adoration of the Magi (Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg). The subject of Dyce.10, formerly described as a Bath Scene was identified by Julius Held as Esther's toilet in the harem of Ahasuerus in 1981. The subject is derived from the Book of Esther in the Bible which tells the story of a beautiful orphaned young Jewish woman who, deported to Bablylon, is summoned to the harem of King Ahasuerus of Persia where she is assigned seven maids and prescribed 12 months of purification, after which she is chosen to become Ahasuerus' Queen. Esther's pose in the painting is derived from a famous antique sculpture known as the Medici Venus which depicts the nude goddess, as if rising from the sea, with her head turned to the left, her hands covering her breasts and genitals. As many as ten versions exist of Wolfaerts' composition.

Historical context note

History painting, i.e. depictions of non recurring events based on religious, classical, literary or allegorical sources, particularly developed during the second half of the 17th century in the Netherlands. Although, history painting began in the Netherlands in the late 15th and early 16th centuries with such artists as Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), Jan Mostaert (ca. 1475-1555) and Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533), it had long been overshadowed by the genre painting. Dutch artists’ new interest in naturalism transformed distant history into contemporary scenes of everyday life, resulting in classical and biblical scenes set in Dutch surroundings with figures in contemporary costume and sometimes including historicize portraits. The first three generations of history painters in the Northern Netherlands were Roman Catholics who trained in Italy: religious history paintings, mythological themes and scenes from classical history occur indeed in the art of the late Dutch mannerists, the Utrecht caravaggists, the Pre-Rembrandtists, Rembrandt, who appears to be first and foremost a history painter, and his followers. Under the influence of the French Academy of Sculpture and Painting and international classicism, Dutch artists increasingly adopted a restrained controlled style for their depiction of the mid century, a style exemplified by the work of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'Esther's toilet in the harem of Ahasuerus', Artus Wolfaerts, ca. 1620

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 301-302, cat. no. 377.
South Kensington Museum. Dyce collection : a catalogue of the paintings, miniatures, drawings, engravings, rings, and miscellaneous objects bequeathed by the Reverend Alexander Dyce. London : G.E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1874. p. 2.
H. Gerson, 'C. Holsteyn of A. Wolffordt' in Kunsthistorische Mededeelingen van het Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, I, (1946), pp. 5-6.
J. Held, "Noch einmal Artus Wolffort." Wallraf-Richartz Jahrbuch, xlii (1981), pp. 143-56.

Production Note

formerly titled 'Bath scene'

Materials

Oil paint; Oak

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Bathing; Nudes

Categories

Paintings; Gender and Sexuality

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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