WITZ, Konrad
(b. ca. 1400, Rottweil, d. ca. 1445, Basel)

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Panel, 84 x 79 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba, and third king of united Israel; his wisdom was proverbial. Solomon's rein saw the construction of the Temple at Jerusalem.

The ostensible purpose of the visit of the Queen of Sheba was to satisfy her curiosity about the travellers' tales she had heard concerning his wisdom and the magnificence of his court. She came with a great camel train bearing gifts of spices, gold and precious stones. In return the king bestowed on her 'all she desired, whatever she asked, in addition to all he gave her of his royal bounty.'

In this panel from the Heilspiegel Altarpiece, Witz painted a gold background with filigree ornamentation and placed both his figures before it. The blue, red, green, and white of the clothing and the restrained ochre of the hands and faces may be the only colours, but they radiate light when set against the intense gold of the background, whose effect is increased still further by the elaborate inlay pattern. Witz recognized that an abstract gold background sharpened the contours of a form and made it almost tangible.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 3 minutes):
George Frideric Handel: Solomon - The arrival of the Queen of Sheba