We are grateful to Dr. Massimo Pulini for proposing the attribution after inspection of the original. We are also grateful to Professor Francesco Petrucci and Dr. Francesca Baldassari for independently confirming the attribution on the basis of photographs. Professor Petrucci proposes a date around the second half of the 1650s, during Vanni's second stay in Rome.
Raffaele Vanni studied in Siena under his father Francesco, until the latter's death in 1610. He then moved to Rome, where he furthered his studies with Guido Reni and Antonio Carracci and where he also started working with the leading artists of the time, always keeping his links with Tuscany alive, by continuing to paint for Florentine and Sienese patrons.
Among his many Roman commissions, the Birth of the Virgin for Santa Maria della Pace put Vanni in direct contact with Pietro da Cortona, who was working on the façade and the restoration of the church. This painting reflects the painter's response to Pietro da Cortona and his magnificent compositions which, together with memories of Bolognese classicism, dominated Vanni's mature oeuvre.
The subject comes from the Old Testament Book of Esther. King Ahasuerus of Persia, having dismissed his queen, Vashti, chose Esther to replace her, not knowing she was Jewish. When the king's minister, Haman, an anti-semite, decreed that all Jews in the Persian Empire should be massacred, Esther was asked by her cousin Mordecai to intercede with the king. To see the king without being summoned was forbidden. Nevertheless Esther, having dressed in her finest robes, entered the royal chamber. Ahasuerus holds out his golden sceptre to signify that he will receive her, while Esther is swooning with relief.