An Smeeth, Sampler of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. England, 1654. FM: T.18-1928 © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The word ‘sampler’ derives from the Latin exemplum; samplers originally functioned as examples of particular patterns or stitches for future reference. During the seventeenth century, stitching samplers became an important part of a young girl’s education. They often feature floral designs and embroidered foliage, along with maze-like knots and patterns. The upper section of this sampler by An Smeeth (or Ann Smith) presents a scene of epistemic trial, in the encounter between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. In the biblical story, the Queen of Sheba comes to Solomon to test his famous wisdom. His answers to her questions convert her scepticism into conviction, and they exchange gifts. The garden setting which Smeeth gives to the scene is eminently suited to its theme of knowledge, and the centrality of the Queen places the focus on female participation in this sphere.