How many of you know the story of Esther?
I know two stories. First is, of course, Esther, that remarkable woman who has a whole book dedicated to her in the Old Testament.
Although over two thousand years separate the two Esthers there is something that links the two together. They were both very beautiful not just in their outward form but in their inner being (emphasising the point that Dickens’ Esther could still be beautiful even after her face was scarred after catching smallpox). Both Esthers did not know who their mothers were. The biblical Esther was an orphan who grew up in exile. Dickens’ Esther was an illegitimate ‘orphaned’ child who only met her mum just before the mother died.
Both women became wives of highly regarded men. Biblical Esther became wife to King Ahasuerus; Dickens’ Esther became wife to Doctor Allan Woodcourt.
Both women have lives tinged by the aura of a fairy tale. Through their goodness, their inner strength, their determination to face the world’s difficulties with honesty they have become transfigured into virtual religious symbols of all that is best in woman.
I don’t know whether Charles Dickens purposefully adopted the name ‘Esther’ for his heroine but I do feel he must have touched on the biblical and fable-like allusions in that wonderful name. Certainly, both women see their way through the dismal obscurity often laid upon one’s life – exile in the case of the Biblical Esther and the Courts of Chancery in the case of Dickens’ heroine – to enter into a world of clarity and purest light.
Esther is the subject of a truly fascinating exhibition which opened at the Circolo dei Forestieri’s Sala Rosa yesterday 16th of July and will continue until the 30th of the month.
Devised by artist Eva Alessandra Lombardi its theme is the liberation of women through their meeting with a ‘prince charming’, a marriage between that which is royal and that which is sacred.
(The official opening of Eva Alessandra Lombardi’s exhibition)
Fairy tales are full of this theme and place great emphasis on the colour blue (which, as far as paintings are concerned, was once the most expensive colour to produce).
The paintings on display at the exhibition develop this theme, also through such stories as the Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.
The archetypal story is that of the meeting and marriage between Esther and King Ahasuerus ((Xerxes). I entered into the palace of this King many years ago at Persepolis in present-day Iran:
There is also a psalm which sums up the sentiments of this story which can be read on many different levels: fable, history, moral, religious. It’s psalm 45 (which was also most wonderfully set to music by Handel as one of his Coronation anthems):
|Psalm 45 (King James Version)
My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever.
Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.
And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things.
Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee.
Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.
Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.
Kings’ daughters were among thy honourable women: upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir.
Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house;
So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.
And the daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift; even the rich among the people shall intreat thy favour.
The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold.
She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee.
With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the king’s palace.
Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth.
I will make thy name to be remembered in all generations: therefore shall the people praise thee for ever and ever.
There’s also a children’s corner in the exhibition where they can indulge in drawing and colouring activities. Surely a good idea!
You have until 30th July to visit this fascinating and thought-provoking exhibition which was opened by mayor Betti on the 16th of this month.
PS If you love Handel (and who doesn’t: Jimi Hendrix had three of his masterpieces in his record collection when he lived for a while next to Handel’s house) you’ll know that the composer wrote an oratorio on Esther’s story: