The Iconography
In the Book of Esther the Jewish virgin Esther is chosen to replace the disobedient Vasthi as Queen of Ahasuerus (Xerxes). When she learns of a plot to kill all the Jews she goes to the king, gains his sympathy, and asks him to come to a banquet with Haman, the leader of the plot. At the banquet, she gets Ahasuerus to condemn Haman to death.


Parts of the Book of Esther that were included in the Vulgate were rejected by Reformation editors, so some details in narrative images from Catholic sources will reflect the Vulgate version only. For example, in the Vulgate Esther goes to Ahasuerus in her best finery and accompanied by two maids, as at right. To gain the king's sympathy, she faints before him. The corresponding passage in the King James version has the finery but not the maids or the swoon.

In medieval exegesis Esther's replacement of Vasthi prefigures God's dismissal of Synagoga and crowning of Ecclesia.1 Accordingly, this woodcut of the crowning of Esther borrows from the iconography of Coronation of the Virgin images. The Christian interpretation may also lie behind Veronese's triumphalist Esther Cycle in Venice's Church of San Sebastian.

Usually paintings of Esther focus on specific incidents in the story. In portraits she has no attribute other than her crown.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2019-02-02.


Marco del Buono Giamberti and Apollonio di Giovanni di Tomaso, The Story of Esther, circa 1460-70. The painting shows the wedding of Esther and Ahasuerus (See the description page.)

Artemisia Gentilischi, Esther before Ahasuerus (See the description page)



  • Esther is also called Hadassah


1 Glossa Ordinaria, II, 1615-28.