Costantino Carasi
King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

18th century
Palazzo Bellomo, Syracuse, Sicily

The painting is an imaginative interpretation of an episode recounted in 3 Kings (KJV 1 Kings) and 2 Chronicles, informed by an appreciation of the Song of Solomon.

In 1 Kings when the Queen of Sheba sees Solomon's stunning wealth she "no longer had any spirit in her" (10:5). The Latin of 2 Chronicles 9:4 calls her reaction a stupor, a word that can mean either simple amazement or a benumbed embarrassment. Carasi has chosen the latter sense. Sheba sits disconsolate while Solomon comforts her.

Solomon's tender response to the Queen's "stupor" in the painting is not directly recorded in either 1 Kings or 2 Chronicles. The artist appears to have derived it from the gifts he then showers on her, "all that she desired…and many more things than she brought to him" (2 Chronicles 9:12). These gifts are suggested by the servant entering in the background with the silver bowl on his head.

The Song of Solomon is also an influence on this painting, in general because of the love it expresses and in particular because the placing of the king's hands answers to Song 2:6, "His left hand is under my head, and his right hand shall embrace me."

The African bearer in the right background is the only reference to the queen's African origin, which is noted in most of the patristic commentaries on her visit.

View this image in full resolution.
Read more about Solomon.

Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.