Jean-Jules Antoine Lecomte du Noüy: Mordecai, second in power to the King
The present work depicts Mordecai, from the Book of Esther. Mordecai was the adoptive father of Esther, the beautiful Jewess who became queen to the king Ahasuerus. Mordecai held an office in the king's court. After Esther was chosen as queen, he exposed a plot to assassinate the king. Later, Haman the Agagite was appointed to the highest position in the kingdom, but Mordecai refused to bow to him. Haman became so infuriated that he devised a plan to destroy not only Mordecai, but all of the Judeans in the empire. The king was unaware of the nationality of his beloved queen and gave Haman the authority to execute his plan. Haman had letters sent to every governor of every province that on a certain day they would coordinate the total annihilation of every Judean man, woman and child. Mordecai learned of this evil plan and notified Esther of Haman’s plot. Esther revealed the plot to the king and Haman was hanged and the plot stopped.
The subject is unusual for Lecomte du Noüy, who is primarily known for his Orientalist subjects. Although he exhibited religious and historical paintings at the Salon beginning in 1863, after 1872 when Lecomte du Noüy made an extended trip to Greece, Egypt, Turkey and Asia Minor, Orientalist themes dominated his oeuvre. Even among his religious compositions, Jewish themes were rare. He did complete an image of Judith (1875), depicting the profile of a woman in exotic dress and the traditional head-dress worn by married women from Bethlehem, as well as a composition Rabbis Commenting on the Bible on Saturday (1882). Additionally, Lecomte du Noüy’s first wife was the grand-daughter of Adolphe Crémieux, the former French Minister of Justice who withdrew from political office to become president of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in the 1860s. Lecomte du Noüy painted a portrait of Crémieux (1878), now at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris. [Schiller and Bodo]