Sir Edward John Poynter
_The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon_ 1890
AGNSW collection

Sir Edward John Poynter

The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon


The story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon has been told many times in many cultures for nearly 3000 years, from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible to a Hollywood movie, from Arabia to Africa. However, it is difficult to separate fact from legend.

Renowned for his wealth and wisdom, Solomon is believed to have ruled the ancient Hebrews in the 10th century BCE, building a grand palace in Jerusalem in what is now Israel. The identity of the beautiful queen and her homeland of Sheba is more mysterious - Ethiopians call her the mother of their nation, but there are other claims to her origin.

The queen is said to have visited the king, bringing gold, precious stones and spices as gifts. Some say her purpose was to test how clever he was; others say it was to have a son.

The opulence of the court is evident in the exquisite details of this painting, from the lion throne and silk carpet to the peacocks, musicians and guards. After exhaustive preparations, including a scale model and hundreds of drawings, the artwork took the artist six years to complete. He also designed the elaborate gilded frame, which echoes some of the motifs you can find in the painting.

It was not unusual for English artists in the second half of the 19th century to draw on the stories and imagery of the Middle East and Egypt. The British Empire was expanding and the British Museum filling with archaeological discoveries from its colonies around the world, which fuelled people's interest. Some of the objects in this painting - such as the lions by the stairs - were based on artefacts that had just recently been discovered.

oil on canvas, 234.5 x 350.5 x 20.5 cm frame, purchased 1892, 898