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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon

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

“The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to

King Solomon” by Edward Poynter

“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 real.

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 many stories that have inspired many artists.

The land of Sheba has been identified as Saba, a nation on the coast of 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 lineage and possession of the Ark has been a source of prestige for the Ethiopian monarchy. Over many centuries these traditions have had a substantial effect on Ethiopian culture.

Queen of Sheba

The Queen of Sheba tale has undergone extensive Jewish, Islamic, and Ethiopian elaborations, and has become the subject of widespread and fertile of legends. Historians identify Sheba with the South Arabian kingdom of Saba in present-day Yemen.

Traditional references to the Queen of Sheba include:

  • Christian scriptures mention a “Queen of the South”, who came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. (Mt. 12:42; Lk. 11:31)
  • The story of Solomon and the queen was popular among Copts. In one Coptic poem, a Queen asks riddles of Solomon.
  • The fullest version of the legend appears in the Kebra Nagast (Glory of the Kings), the Ethiopian national saga.
  • In Jewish writings, according to Josephus, the queen of Sheba brought Israel the first specimens of the balsam, which grew in the Holy Land in the historian’s time.
  • The story of the Queen in the Quran shares some similarities with the Bible and other Jewish sources.

Edward Poynter

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 echoed the growing interest in orientalist subjects in literature, music and visual art during the latter half of the 1800s. Poynter was trained in Paris and was obsessed with the accuracy of the many details in this painting.

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon

  • 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
  • Museum:             Art Gallery of New South Wales

Edward Poynter

A Tour of the Art Gallery of New South Wales

A Tour of the Museums in Sydney, Australia

Reflections

  • What kind of royal court does this late 1800’s painting depict?
  • Can Ethiopia’s uniqueness be traced, all the way back, to the legend in this painting?
  • Why has the story of the Queen of Sheba, captured the imagination of so many artists?
  • Does the Ethiopian Church hold any ancient Jewish artefacts?

~~~

“When the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon …
she came to test him with hard questions.”

– Bible (Old Testament)

~~~


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

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