This print depicts the story of Mordecai, a main figure in the book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible. Here Rembrandt has shown Persia’s celebration of Mordecai’s victory over Haman. Haman was a vindictive court official. After Mordecai refused to prostrate himself before Haman, Haman decided to murder every Jewish exile as punishment. When Mordecai learned of Haman’s plot, he confided in Queen Esther, who was sympathetic. She assisted him in distributing weapons to the Jews so they could defend themselves against Haman’s militia. After a period of violence, the King demanded the fighting be stopped. Mordecai was raised to a high rank and Haman was executed on the gallows he had, in anticipation, erected for Mordecai. In memory of their deliverance, the Jews celebrate the feast of Purim or “Lots” so named for the lots that were drawn by Haman to decide whom he would first murder among the Jewish elders in Persia. Purim is celebrated with ceremonial meals and charitable gifts. In Rembrandt’s rendition of the celebration, Mordecai is mounted on a regal horse while the Jews of Persia gratefully prostrate in the streets. Rembrandt’s mastery of light is present, not only in his grand paintings, but his simple etchings. The upper left-hand corner of the image has been shaded to near blackness while the lower right corner celebrates broad swatches of white. The contrast is softly blended in the print’s midground where Mordecai rides.
-Susan Bonta, Class of 2018