The Queen of Sheba has always been an ungraspable figure in my imagination, a multi-faceted enigmatic goddess that whips away as soon as you begin to grasp her. But did you know she had hairy legs?
In a Hebrew version, the first encounter of Solomon and Sheba is described as this.
The queen was brought before him, and when she saw the king sitting in his glass pavilion, she thought within herself that the king sat upon water, and so proceeded to draw up the hem of her dress so that she could pass over without getting wet. The king her legs then saw, being full of hair, and could not hide his displeasure. Whenas her seat beside him she took, the king privily unto her didst say, “Thy beauty is the beauty befitting women, but thy hairs are the hairs befitting men. Hair on a man’s body is comely, but uncomely on a woman’s.”
Colloquy of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, translated from Hebrew by David Ben-Abraham
Once she used some ancient mixture of Nair (lime, water, and arsenic trisulfide), Solomon was more than happy to take her to his bedchamber. Easy peasy?
There are so many variations and tales of the story of Sheba and Solomon, and yet, this one is the one that has fixed itself to me. To me, it shows, yes, a shallow view of female beauty, but also shows Solomon in a weird trickster God role. Her beauty, intelligence, and wealth are intimidating so he basically takes her down a notch – like ancient negging.
Alas, this encounter does not have any important paintings with leg hair included – the key point in this passage.
Often it’s an excuse to show a beautiful woman and the splendour of Solomon’s palace.
In some other translations, she actually has a hairy cloven foot like the devil. As mentioned before in Mary Magdalene, body hair could be seen as wild, animal-like, and even evil. So maybe not showing body hair was, in their eyes, keeping Sheba elevated. Here she is portrayed as a Queen with her orb and sceptre – not bowing to the King.
It’s also likely artists couldn’t picture her as beautiful with having hairy legs.
The Christian Biblical Sheba (who apparently is lily white..) has permeated our culture here in the US – not the Sheba from other traditions. Her legs aren’t mentioned in the bible, heck, she barely is, so there haven’t been renditions of hairy gams.
That is, until very recently.
Artists, like Ana Maria Pacheco show the Queen of Sheba in all her hairy glory. I love the expressive faces and warm colours.
Undoubtedly Sheba will continue to confuse and inspire, and I hope to see more paintings of her in various iterations.