Rembrandt Paints Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther
The subject is an episode from chapters 5-7 of the book of Esther in the Old Testament.
Haman, counciller to the king Ahasuerus, proposed to hang Mordechai for not paying him respect by standing as he entered the room or by greeting him, and the entire Jewish nation as revenge for their pride. The Jews were saved by the intercession of Mordechai's cousin Esther, who was also Ahasuerus' wife. It is this rescue that is still celebrated in the Jewish festival of Purim. In that festival, Haman is portrayed as the villain, and this is reflected in Rembrandt's depiction of him.
According to the Pushkin Museum this is one of the best creations of Rembrandt's late period:
The dramatic conflict between the three persons is expressed through their restrained but eloquent gestures. The scene has a tense atmosphere of suspense. The figure of Esther is radiant, her robe with a long train is gleaming as if with precious stones. Haman is immersed in the shadows. Rembrandt achieves great depth in rendering the inner life, the spiritual energy of his characters.
There are only three figures in the picture and the banquet is suggested sketchily. Esther lowers her arms apprehensively as she finishes her speech, the king's lips are pursed in anger, and Haman's pose reveals a sense of doom. The distance between the king and his vizier seems enormous, while the king and queen form a united pair.”— Tyazehlov, V.N.