In all my travels I have seen only three images so far of King Solomon, and the identification of one of them (at right) is somewhat dubious. I describe the other two here:
THE JUDGMENT OF SOLOMON This is the story of the two women who asked Solomon to judge which of them was the mother of the living child and which the mother of the dead one (1 Kings 3:6-28). Solomon finds the truth by commanding that the living child be split in two. The false mother, whose gesture we see on the far left, accepts the judgment. But the real mother, lifting her arms in supplication to the king, reveals the truth.
The comments on this passage gathered in the Glossa Ordinaria interpret Solomon and the real mother as Christ and his Church (II, 695-98), so the artist places him on a throne set explicitly above the realm of human action, as in images of Christ enthroned in Heaven. Servants with shields stand at his side, like the angels in pictures of Christ regnant.
It is perhaps a coincidence that this ivory shows Solomon on his "great throne of ivory" (1 Kings 10:18).
SOLOMON AND SHEBA
The other image draws from 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and 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, which can mean either simple amazement or an embarrassed numbness. Carasi has chosen the latter sense of the word and pictures Solomon comforting a dispirited Sheba.
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 Solomon proceeds to shower 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 expressed here 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."
Prepared in 2019 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.