Cabinet with scenes from the Story of Esther

Date: after 1665

Culture: British

Medium: Silk satin worked with silk and metal thread, seed pearls, mica, feathers; detached buttonhole, buttonhole filling variations; French knot, single knot, laid work, couching, satin, and stem stitches; metal thread trim; wood frame; silk lining; mirror glass, glass bottles; print of landscape inscribed: "Sold by John Overton at the White Horfe in"

Dimensions: H. 9 1/4 x W. 16 x D. 11 1/4 inches (23.5 x 40.6 x 28.6 cm)

Classification: Textiles-Embroidered

Credit Line: Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1964

Accession Number: 64.101.1335


This is certainly one of the most exuberantly three-dimensional embroidered boxes in existence, produced during the heyday of domestic raised-work production. The carefully considered use of materials and textures—the queen and her attendants have necklaces of seed pearls, the windows of the castle are pieces of translucent mica, and the tail of the squirrel in the tree above the king is convincingly fluffy—results in one of the most delightful objects in the collection.

The story of the biblical queen Esther from the Book of Esther is played out on all of the visible surfaces. The lid shows the dramatic moment when Esther defies court etiquette and approaches the throne of her husband King Ahasuerus of Persia to request an audience and plead her case for mercy for his Jewish subjects. The doors on the front show Esther, Ahasuerus, and his minister Haman at a banquet, and Haman riding toward Esther's guardian Mordecai. The side panels show Ahasuerus in bed recalling the name of Mordecai, and the procession of Mordecai in royal apparel that the king has bestowed upon him. The back panel displays the scene of the hanging of Haman.

Esther was seen as a model of piety and bravery, not to mention beauty. Her tale was one that clearly resonated with the makers and consumers of seventeenth-century embroidered furnishings, and her story is the single most popular biblical subject rendered in seventeenth-century English embroidery.