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John Poynter, The Queen of Sheba's Visit to King Solomon, watercolour


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The Queen of ShebaEdward John Poynter, The Queen of Sheba's Visit to King Solomon, a watercolour

According to the Bible story, Solomon gave the Queen of Sheba 'all she desired'. Imaginations have run riot and interpretations of the Queen in European music, art, opera and poetry have become increasingly erotic; she has become a queen of seduction rather that a queen in search of knowledge.

Perhaps the most famous depiction of the Queen of Sheba is by Sir Edward John Poynter (1836-1919), whose stunning oil painting is now in the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The watercolour shown here is one of several studies that Poynter made in preparation for the composition.

The Queen and Solomon face each other on the steps of Solomon's imposing 'lion throne', their encounter almost overwhelmed by the splendid architecture. Poynter has supplemented the relatively brief Biblical account of Solomon's palace – which mentions the stone foundations, pillars and beams of cedar, gold and brass decoration, and the king's throne – with physical evidence drawn from recent archaeological discoveries. Like many of his contemporaries, Poynter was strongly influenced by the sensational archaeological discoveries of Assyrian palaces in northern Iraq made by the archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894). Poynter, a friend of Layard, visited the galleries at the British Museum and drew directly from archaeological sources.

The magnificent 'lion throne' closely follows the detailed description given in the Bible (1 Kings 10:18-20), though the twelve golden lions were further inspired by a colossal stone lion that Layard discovered in 1849 on one side of the doorway into the Temple of Ishtar in Nimrud (now in the British Museum, Room 6: Assyrian sculpture).="ilink|,_blank|">

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