Reading the Book of Esther

Sir William Rothenstein, 1872 - 1945

Reading the Book of Esther

Sir William Rothenstein 1872 - 1945


Religious scene depicting a group of Rabbis standing at a lectern covered in a woven cloth, reading from the book of Esther. Two men stand to the right, leaning close over the book and a third older man stands to the left side; all three have long beards and wear skull caps with capes draped over their heads. The Rabbi's stand in a room inside a Synagogue with just a wooden door visible in the background.

Display Label

Reading the Book of Esther 1907 Sir William Rothenstein 1872-1945 Oil on canvas Although Rothenstein himself was Jewish he did not pay much attention to his faith until 1903 when he took a studio in Spital Square, Whitechapel, at the centre of the Jewish community in East London. Fascinated by the religious rituals, yet unable to paint in the synagogue due to Jewish law, Rothenstein hired old men in prayer shawls to pose for him in his studio. In 1905 the British Government passed the ‘Aliens Act’, which for the first time restricted immigration. The law made it possible to deny entry to all ‘undesirable’ migrants, but was widely seen as aimed principally at Eastern European Jews. The artist’s declared ambition was to convey ‘the spirit of Israel that animates the worshippers, not the outward trappings of the ritual’. This aim to see beyond surface, whether successfully fulfilled or not, shows Rothenstein’s essential humanity. Gift of Charles Lambert Rutherston 1925.307

Object Name

Reading the Book of Esther

Creators Name

Sir William Rothenstein

Date Created



framed: 109.5cm x 128.5cm
unframed: 87cm x 106.5cm

accession number


Place of creation





oil paint


Gift of Mr Charles Lambert Rutherston, 1925

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