How the Queen of Sheba Connects the Art of Three Major Religions

By lina Cohen
Frans Franken II, King Solomon Receiving the Queen of Sheba, ca. 1620–29. Courtesy of the Walters Art Museum.
Simple and stark, the biblical tale of the Queen of Sheba has launched innumerable, sumptuous artworks. The queen first appears as a visitor to King Solomon’s Jerusalem court in the Old Testament’s Books of Kings. It’s hardly the most lurid story in the Bible; no one dies, commits adultery, or suffers a plague. Yet over millennia, this unadorned narrative has undergone myriad transformations that alternately reinvent the Queen of Sheba as a converted heathen, the founder of a nation, and a magical being. Three major religious traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—spanning Asia, Europe, and Africa have claimed her as their own in vastly different literary and artistic representations. [More]
AAttributed to Ira, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba page in folio from an illustrated manuscript, early 19th century. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
laude Lorrain Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648 National Gallery, London
The Queen of Sheba Meeting King Solomon, Ethiopia, mid-20th century. Courtesy of The Walters Art Museum.