Hendrick van Steenwijk the Younger, was renowned for his architectural scenes of church interiors, prisons, and palace terraces, and especially his remarkable ability to evoke the character of stone. He often painted night scenes, and animated his compositions with small-scale figurative elements (usually biblical narratives).
This haunting nocturnal scene depicts a drama from the Book of Esther in which the Old Testament figure Mordecai, a Jew, speaks to his cousin Esther about a conspiracy to massacre the Jews. He begs Esther, who is the wife of the Persian King Ahasuerus to use her influence to stop plot. Esther agrees and later pleads with her husband to spare her people. He grants her this favor, and, thus, the Jews are saved.
A master of ambiance and perspective, Steenwijk stages the scene in a gothic-styled stone structure dimly lit by a single light source, a candle held by Mordecai. One can almost sense the hushed tones in which Esther and Mordecai converse as they stand together in the dark, vaulted room. To underscore Esther’s importance, Steenwijk situates her at the composition’s vanishing point. He also effectively used pockets of light to enhance the scene’s pictorial drama. Light from Mordecai’s hidden candle illuminates the foreground wall, floor, and archway, while a dim secondary light source allows the viewer’s eye to wander back to the deep recesses of the space.
lower margin in monogram: H.V.S / 1616
Private collection, Belgium. Dr. Walter Cohen [1880-1942], Düsseldorf; sold July 1922 to Dr. Matthias K.H. Rech [1879-1946], Bonn; by descent in his family; (sale, Van Ham Kunstauktionen, Cologne, 18-20 November 2004, no. 914); (Thomas le Claire, Hamburg); purchased 17 February 2006 by NGA.
- Sitt, Martina. Auch ein Bild braucht einen Anwalt: Walter Cohen - Leben zwischen Kunst und Recht. Düsseldorf, 1994: 26-27, fig. 6.
- Daxer & Marschall and Thomas le Claire. Recent Acquisitions: Oil Sketches and Paintings 1600-1900. Munich and Hamburg, 2005: 4, repro.