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“The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon” by Edward Poynter

'The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon', oil on canvas painting by Edward Poynter, 1890, Art Gallery of New South Wales

“The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon” by Edward Poynter depicts the story from the Hebrew Bible in which the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon the King of Israel and a son of King David. The Bible describes how the fame of Solomon’s wisdom and wealth had spread so far and wide, that the Queen of Sheba decided to visit and see for herself if the stories were true.

The queen came bearing gifts including gold, spices, and precious stones and King Solomon responded in kind and gave her “all her desire, whatsoever she asked,” and she left satisfied (1 Kings 10:10). Nearly 3,000 years later, the visit of the Queen of Sheba continues to inspire the creative imagination and has become the subject of numerous stories that have inspired many artists.

The land of Sheba has been identified as Saba, a nation on the coast the Red Sea and was part of what are now Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen. An Ethiopian account from the 14th-century purports that the Queen of Sheba had sexual relations with King Solomon and gave birth to a son. Ethiopian tradition holds that the son grew up to become King Menelik I, and to found a dynasty that would reign for nearly 3,000 years until Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974. King Menelik was said to be a practising Jew who was given a replica of the Ark of the Covenant by King Solomon. Ethiopian tradition states that the original Ark was switched and went to Ethiopia, and is still there, guarded by the Christian Church. The Ethiopian government and church deny all requests to view the alleged ark.

The claim of such a lineage and of possession of the Ark has been a source of prestige for the Ethiopian monarchy over many centuries and has had an important effect on Ethiopian culture as a whole.

The artist, Sir Edward John Poynter (1836 – 1919) was an English painter who served as President of the Royal Academy. He became best known for his large historical paintings such as this one. This painting should be seen in the light of the growing interest in orientalist subjects in literature, music and visual art during the latter half of the 1800’s. Poynter was trained in Paris and was obsessed with the accuracy of the many details in this painting.

Among the many other masterpieces and historical objects in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the following are some highlights:

Essential Facts:

  • Title:               The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon
  • Artist:             Sir Edward John Poynter
  • Dates:             1890
  • Materials:      oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:  234.5 x 350.5 cm stretcher; 421.0 x 341.1 x 20.5 cm frame
  • Museum:       Art Gallery of New South Wales

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Name:                      Sir Edward John Poynter
  • Born:                        1836 in Paris
  • Died:                         1919 in London
  • Major Paintings:
    • The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, 1890
    • Andromeda, 1869
    • The Siren, 1864
    • Corner of the Marketplace, 1887


“Art is an illusion of spontaneity.” Japanese Proverb



Photo Credit: Edward Poynter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons