Schönfeld was a German artist who spent a number of years in Italy where he is documented in Rome in 1633. The first known works by the artist are drawings and reflect his interest in classical ruins. This interest would be maintained throughout his career and was expressed in a classical style influenced by his time spent in Italy. Around 1638 the artist moved to Naples where he spent a number of years and where his palette lightened and his compositions became more animated, also reflecting the influence of artists such as Andrea Vaccaro. Schönfeld returned to Germany in 1651 and moved to Augsburg the following year. He generally set his compositions in broad, theatrical, outdoor settings articulated around fragments of sculpture and architecture of classical inspiration. The figures are arranged in groups and gesture plays an important part in conveying the narrative.
On this occasion Schönfeld depicts an Old Testament scene. Using a typically broad setting he locates the principal figures on the left, almost lost among the multitude of figures and animals that fill the area around Solomon’s tent. According to the biblical account, the Queen of Sheba arrived in Jerusalem with a large retinue and with camels laden with gifts for the king, whose knowledge she wished to put to the test. Schönfeld depicts the meeting between the two monarchs: Solomon wears a crown and a long cloak and holds a sceptre, while the Queen, in the centre of the canvas, is depicted kneeling and making a gesture of reverence towards her host. The setting for their meeting is framed on the left with rocks and a line of tents arranged in a diagonal that extends into the pictorial depth, balanced on the right by classical ruins. These elements create a large triangular space in the centre that is filled with the bustle of the camp and with the principal narrative event. Schönfeld locates a group of women and children on the right who are oblivious to the main scene, engaged in their labours among dead fowl, pitchers and jars, while the lower right corner is filled with a still life of fruit and vegetables on the ground.
Roberto Contini dated this canvas to Schönfeld’s Neapolitan period, when his style was enriched by the influence of artists such as Aniello Falcone and Micco Spadaro. Contini noted that the still life in the corner is particularly suggestive of Neapolitan painting of this period, as are other specific details such as the similarity between the figures of the Queen and one of the pages holding up Solomon’s cloak in the present work and various figures in The Beheading of Saint Gennaro by Carlo Coppola.
The present canvas, which is signed, has been compared to another by Schönfeld on the same subject dating from later in his career (Liechtenstein collection, Vaduz).