Queen Esther in Venice: Art and Drama


  • Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby Ben-Gurion University of the Negev




This article looks at the representations of Queen Esther in the Venetian visual tradition from the fourteenth through the seventeenth century by studying contemporaneous art in conjunction with the play by Leon Modena. Venice witnessed the emergence of Queen Esther as a popular subject in Renaissance culture. Artists introduced Esther and her narrative, offering multilayered interpretations of this biblical queen. This article explores the increasing frequency of allusions to Queen Esther in Venetian culture and proposes the reasons for that interest. Esther was seen as an ideal bride, as a court lady, as an oriental figure offering an opportunity for the authors and artists to express the attraction of the East. She was also seen as a prototype of the Virgin Mary, and as a Jewish maiden reflecting issues of toleration and assimilation of the Jews in Venice. Most intriguing is the question of how Venice, a city infamous for its ghetto and anti-Semitic practices, welcomed the Esther cycle of the artist Paolo Veronese in the church of San Sebastiano (1556) as well as the numerous representations of Esther by the celebrated Mannerist artist Tintoretto (1546-7). The article specifically explores the connections between works of art and the religious drama of Leon Modena.

Keywords: Venice; Esther; art; Leon Modena; Veronese; Tintoretto; Pascarol Scrolls