Ahasuerus and Haman at the feast of Esther

Ahasuerus and Haman at the feast of Esther

The painting Ahasveros and Haman to the feast of Esther is one of the few works of Rembrandt van Rijn of which all owners are known. The origin of the painting can be traced back to 1662, two years after its completion.


The subject is an episode from chapters 5-7 of the book of Esther in the Old Testament. Haman, counciller to the king Ahasuerus, proposed to hang Mordechai for not paying him respect by standing as he entered the room or by greeting him, and the entire Jewish nation as revenge for their pride. The Jews were saved by the intercession of Mordechai's cousin Esther, who was also Ahasuerus' wife. It is this rescue that is still celebrated in the Jewish festival of Purim. [See: Webberley, Helen (2008) "Rembrandt and The Purim Story". In: The Jewish Magazine, February 2008, p.??.] In that festival, Haman is portrayed as the villain, and this is reflected in Rembrandt's depiction of him.

According to the Pushkin Museum this is one of the best creations of Rembrandt's late period.


Rembrandt was inspired by the play "Hester", by Johannes Serwouters (1623-1677), when painting "Ahasuerus and Haman at the feast of Esther". The playwright was first performed in 1659 in the Schouwburg of Van Campen and dedicated to Leonore Huydecoper, the daughter of Joan Huydecoper van Maarsseveen. [Schwartz, G. (2006) Rembrandts Universe, His Art His Life His World, p. 112; Schwartz, G. (1987) Rembrandt, zijn leven, zijn schilderijen. Een nieuwe biografie met alle beschikbare schilderijen in kleur afgebeeld, p. 272-6.] Serwouters wrote his play as a reaction to the pogroms in Eastern Europe. Her husband may have ordered the painting, in this way helping Rembrandt being in financial difficulties.

After its completion in 1660, Rembrandt sold the painting "Ahasuerus and Haman at the feast of Esther" to Jan J. Hinlopen. [Dudok van Heel, S.A.C. (1969) De Rembrandt's in de verzamelingen Hinlopen. In: Maandblad Amstelodamum, pp. 233-237. (In Dutch.)] In the year 1662 a poetry book by Jan Vos was published, in which there were a number of poems based on the paintings belonging to Jan J. Hinlopen. [Jan Vos (1726) Alle de gedichten van Jan Vos, pp. 360-3; see also pp. 388, 516, 536. (In Dutch.)] Jan Vos describes the painting as following:

::"Here one sees Haman eating with Ahasuerus and Esther.
::"But it is in vain; his breast is full of regret and pain.
::"He eats Esther's food; but deeper into her heart.
::"The king is mad with revenge and rage.
::"The wrath of a monarch... [From: Slive, S. (1953) Rembrandt and his critics, 1630-1730, p. 52.]


Part of Jan Hinlopen's collection passed to his two daughters, this painting was one of them.
Sara Hinlopen, the longest living of her family, died 89 years old, but without children. [One of her in-laws mentioned in his diary she left a considerable amount of money "being stingy". In: Het dagboek van J. Bicker Raye, bewerkt door F.M. Bijerinck & M.G. de Boer, (1935), p. 172.] Most of her belongings passed Nicolaes Geelvinck and his three sisters. Unfortunenately her will does not mention any painting, most probably to avoid inheritance taxes.

In 1760 "Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther" was sold as number 45 at an auction, listed as coming from Nicolaes Geelvinck, and organized after the death of Gerard Hoet, a minor painter but important collector in The Hague. [Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen, met derzelver prysen, zedert ... 1752. tot ... 1768. ... openbaar verkogt. Dienende tot een vervolg ... op de ... cataloguen door Gerard Hoet ... / Uitgegeeven door Pieter Terwesten, 1770. pp. 220-234.]

In 1764 the painting came to Catherine the Great, most probably through the German entrepreneur Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky, in financial trouble after the Seven Year War. After receiving 320 paintings at one time from Gotzkowsky, the Russian Tsarina started the Hermitage.

From 1862 until 1924 the Rembrandt was in the Museum Rumyantsev in Moscow. Nowadays Rembrandt's painting can be seen in the Pushkin Museum, also in Moscow.


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