The scene of the kneeling Esther before the enthroned Ahaseurus is derived from an engraving after a design by Maarten van Heemskerck, published in Gerard de Jode’s Thesaurus Historiarum Sacrarum Veteris Testamenti, Antwerp, 1579, which was a very popular source for many embroidered subjects.
For an example of a narrative panel depicting all the scenes from the Book of Esther, dated 1654, with maker’s initials AH, see Mary M Brooks, English Embroideries of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, in the Collection of the Ashmolean Museum, London, 2004, No.11,pp.52-54 (Ashmolean Museum: WA 1947.191.309). The subject represents the story of the brave, yet obedient Queen, who spoke out on behalf of her people, and this could have been a subject chosen to make a religious or political point, and therefore supporting either establishment or minority viewpoints.
For detailed discussion of the social context of embroidered Biblical narratives and the specific relevance of Esther in the Civil War politics, see Andrew Morrall and Melinda Watt, English Embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580-1700, `Twixt Art and Nature’, Yale University Press, 2009, Chp.4, Ruth Geuter, pp.57-77. For illustrated comparable examples in the style and quality of drawing of the present cabinet, depicting Biblical subjects, with internal small and long drawers, a recess for a mirror, compartments for two glass containers, ink and sand recesses with lids, see cat.no. 52. pp.208-212, cat.no.67. pp.245-246, and specifically cat.no.70. pp.251-253, for an example with depicts the same subjects from the Book of Esther on the front and reverse as the present cabinet.
Lanto Synge, Art of Embroidery, History of Style and Technique, The Royal School of Needlework, London, 2001, Chapter Five, The Seventeenth Century, pp.110-159, Embroidered Pictures and Stumpwork, pp.131-143, discusses the technique, manufacture and subject matter of these panels, illustrating examples of which were used used on mirrors or made up into the caskets. A similarly conceived but deeper casket than the offered example, with mirrored and braided lid, and casket with an internal square recess (for a mirror), and compartments for two glass containers, and ink and sand recesses with lids see Sotheby’s, London, 21st March 2003, lot 27.
Fig. 1. Casket on view at preview of auction, Vaughan Family Estate (Hengwrt, Nannau and Rug, Merionethshire, North Wales), 1958
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