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Willem de Poorter

The Idolatory of King Solomon

Willem de Poorter

On panel, 15 ¾ x 12 ins. (40 x 31.4 cm) 



Jule Elliot, Westmorland Street, London
Sale, Christie’s, London, 31 October 1947, lot 127, as “de Koninck – The Sacrifice of Moses”
Captain E. G. Spencer-Churchill, M.C., Northwick Park
Sale, Christie’s, London, 25 February, 1966, lot 114, where acquired by the previous owner
Sold by a family trust in 2009


E. G. Spencer-Churchill, The Northwick Rescues, 1912-1962, Evesham, 1961, p. 14, no. 48
W. Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 6 vols., Landau/Pfalz, 1983-1994, vol. IV, p. 2412, no. 1635, p. 2448, illustrated


"And he had seven hundred wives, princesses,and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.  Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not fully follow the LORD, as did his father David. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods."

I Kings 11: v.3-8

The present painting illustrates the downfall of Solomon, the outcome of his worship of idols, which was encouraged by his many wives. Wearing a magnificent red velvet robe embroidered with panels of gold thread, King Solomon kneels and makes an offering to a pagan idol. One of his wives, lavishly dressed in green and gold, appears next to him in a trance-like state. They are surrounded by more of Solomon’s wives and concubines who look on while the un-Godly sacrifice takes place. The drama of the scene is heightened by the grandiose architecture and the monumental stature of the Priest who conducts the sacrifice. He stands before them, a mighty figure swathed in white cloth and wearing an elaborate headdress made of foliage. At the base of the altar lies an offering of gold and silver ewers and jugs, caskets and other valuable objects. These precious objects littered in the foreground speak of the King’s great wealth and prosperity, but also of the depravity that would be his ruin.  De Poorter chooses a dimly lit interior, which allows him to pick out subtle highlights on these vessels and create a theatrical ‘chiaroscuro’ lighting effect which further dramatises this highly charged scene.

The Idolatory of King Solomon was a moralising story that was particularly popular in seventeenth-century Dutch society. The subject was common in Protestant countries in the 1600s because it reflected disapproval of the Catholic Church’s use of religious imagery, a practice that Protestants viewed as idolatrous. According to Kings, chapter 11, Solomon built several sacrificial temples where his foreign wives could burn incense and make offerings to their different gods. Such behaviour incensed God’s wrath, which ultimately led to the destruction of Solomon’s kingdom.

De Poorter masterfully expresses the drama and narrative through powerful lighting effects. The technique of spotlighting the altar and surrounding figures while throwing the rest of the scene into darkness is derived from Rembrandt’s (1606-1669) painting of circa 1630-31. A drawing by Rembrandt of Solomon worshipping other Gods, which Jan Blanc dates to circa 1630, is in The Louvre, Paris (i). It was at around this date that de Poorter is thought to have studied with Rembrandt, so the drawing may have provided inspiration for the present painting, which can be dated to circa 1635-1645. De Poorter explored the subject of King Solomon’s idolatry on more than one occasion and Sumowski mentions three versions by the artist, including the present one. The most comparable one, also upright, is in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (ii). Here King Solomon, in a lavish green and gold robe, descends from his throne, kneeling and holding a censer. Another example is in the collection of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queens University in Kingston (iii). A fourth example of the same subject by de Poorter, but unrecorded by Sumowski, is in the Royal Collection of King Boudewijn in Belgium(iv). 

A label on the back of the present painting indicates that, at one time, the vessels were thought to be by the hand of Leonard Bramer (1596-1674). However, in the view of Ten Brink Goldsmith in her monograph on Bramer, there is no evidence of mutual contact or influence between the two artists (v). Moreover, the refinement of the vessels indicates that de Poorter, and not Bramer, painted them.


It is generally supposed that Willem de Poorter received his artistic training in Rembrandt´s Leiden workshop in the years 1628-1630. A number of de Poorter’s small-scale biblical and history paintings bear such a striking resemblance to Rembrandt’s compositions of circa 1630 that the two hands are often confused. The artist did, on occasion, copy paintings by Rembrandt, such as his Simeon´s Song of Praise of 1631, now in the collection of The Mauritshuis in The Haguevi.  In Rembrandt’s workshop in Leiden, de Poorter would also have met the fijnschilder Gerrit Dou (1613-1675) and there are further similarities between their techniques. Meticulous draughtsmanship, as well as dramatic lighting and a preference for still lifes, whether as the subject of a composition or incorporated into a historical narrative, characterise De Poorter’s work. 

The artist was recorded in Haarlem in 1631, the year that Rembrandt left Leiden for Amsterdam. In 1634, he was registered as a master painter and in the following year, Pieter Casteleijn was named as his pupil. Pieter Abrams Poorter and Claes Coenraets were also apprenticed under de Poorter later on in his career. The archives of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke mention de Poorter for the last time in 1645, the year that he moved to Wijk bij Heusden. His history and still life paintings are well represented throughout the major museums in Europe, yet the date of his death remains a mystery.

Wendela Burgemeister

i) J. Blanc, Dans l’atelier de Rembrandt. Le maître et ses élèves, Paris 2006, pp. 94-95.
ii) Willem de Poorter, The Idolatry of King Solomon, oil on panel, 63 x 49 cm., inv. no. SK-A-757. See also
  Sumowski 1983-1994, op. cit., IV, p. 2408, no. 1610.
iii) Sumowski, 1983-1994, op. cit., IV, p. 2410, no. 1624.
iv) Willem de Poorter, The Idolatry of Solomon, oil on panel, 66 x 45 cm.
v) J. ten Brink Goldsmith ed., Leonart Bramer 1596-1674: ingenious painter and draftsman in Rome and Delft,
  exh. cat., Delft 1994, p. 61.
vi) Rembrandt, Simeon´s Song of Praise, dated 1631, oil on panel, 60.9 x 47.9 cm., inv. no. 145.

Willem de Poorter

1608 – Haarlem – 1649/68

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