AN IMPORTANT MEGILLAH WITH ENGRAVED ILLUSTRATIONS AND TEXT
Printed on paper, Amsterdam, middle or second half 18th Century
Megillah with illustrations and text printed in black on paper, 5 membranes, 22.7 cm. high, 235.5 cm. long, 22 text columns, 10.2 cm. high, most of 25 lines (excepting initial column of 16 lines plus opening word panel, penultimate column of 22 lines, final column of 33 lines and 14.1 cm. high), opening panel containing blessings recited before the megillah reading, final panel containing blessing and prayers recited after the megillah reading, Hebrew square and semi-cursive printed type.
Very good to excellent overall condition, in general fresh and clear impression, skillful repair of mainly marginal minor defects, occasional light foxing and staining not affecting text or illustrations, opening column strengthened, slightly rubbed.
The megillah opens with an illustrated blessing panel depicting the principal characters and events of the Esther narrative. Its four registers display (1) Ahasuerus and Esther enthroned, (2) Esther enthroned between the Hebrew words "Megillah Blessings", (3) a rectangular frame with blessings flanked by the hangings of Bigtan and Teresh (right) and Haman and his sons (left), and (4) Mordechai refusing to bow to Haman, Mordechai riding triumphant through the streets of Shushan, and Mordechai and Esther writing the Purim letter. Two fluted columns, entwined with acanthus leaves and surmounted by rampant lions bracket this introductory panel.
The twenty-two text columns that follow are enclosed in rectangular frames separated by decorative herms. Bust-length portraits of the megillah's characters appear above the text panels, while framed narrative vignettes appear below. The visual narrative, which begins with Ahasuerus' feast and ends with the Jews rejoicing and dispatching the news of their redemption, includes several unusual scenes: the Strangling of Vashti by two women! (col. 2), the Marriage of Esther and Ahasuerus (col. 4), Haman Shooting an Arrow at a Zodiac Wheel (to determine on which date the Jews will be annihilated, [col. 5]) and Zeresh Weeping over the Death of Her Husband and Sons [obove col.18]. The story's climactic episode, the Hanging of Haman's sons, is dramatically depicted within (rather than beneath) the eighteenth text column, which records this event: standing at the bottom of an extraordinarily tall gallows, Mordechai points upward at the dangling corpses of his enemies. The border's final panel shows at top two lions carrying a cartouche inscribed with the word Baruch ("Blessed"), and at bottom five Purim characters, Haman, Mordechai, Zeresh, Esther and Harbonah. These figures, each of whom supports a round escutcheon, have been related to actors and actresses in contemporary Purim dramas. While this panel is typically used to frame the blessing and prayers recited after the megillah reading (hence the word "Baruch" at top), it contains here the final column of text. The final blessing and prayers appear, somewhat unusually, outside of the illustrated border, in a double rectangular frame.
This rare paper megillah provides valuable insight into the origins of an important series of engraved Esther scroll borders. Produced in the 18th century and extant in multiple copies and versions, these richly decorated borders have long defied localization: in the hands of various scholars, they have been attributed to Italy, Germany, Bohemia/Moravia, and The Netherlands. What distinguishes the present example from nearly every other representative of this type, and awards it the unique ability to suggest the series' place of manufacture, is the fact that it was produced on paper (rather than parchment) and contains a printed (rather than handwritten) text. Indeed, a close examination of the scroll's material and typography, conducted by Dr. Adri K. Offenberg, strongly suggests that this exceptional scroll was printed in the city of Amsterdam in the middle or second half of the 18th century.
THE PAPER AND ITS ORIGINS
Offenberg's examination reveals that two large sheets of high quality Dutch Royal paper, cut horizontally and vertically, were used to construct the megillah. Their watermark is a Crowned Shield charged with a Strasbourg Lily and with the lettering "C & I HONIG," referring to the well-known papermakers' firm Honig. This company produced hand-made paper (white, blue and gray) in their famous mill "De vergulde Bijkorf" (The Gilt Beehive) as well as in many other paper mills at Zaandijk. The countermark IV refers to Jean Villedary, a French papermaker who probably worked with Dutch capital. From 1758, a branch of this firm had settled in the Dutch village of Hattem (Guelderland).
According to Klepikov, who examined 132 Honig watermarks, the design of the Strasbourg Lily was used by the Honig papermakers between 1741 and 1822. The lettering "C & I HONIG" occurs between 1730 and 1869. While no identical marks are given by Churchill and Heawood, those seen on the megillah's paper are in many respects close to Churchill no. 1824 (undated) and no. 408 (1760). It is known that the brothers Cornelis Jacobszoon and Jan Jacobszoon Honig worked together under the name "C & I Honig" but started new companies, each one for himself, in 1738. Cornelis (1683-1755) continued under the name "C & I Honig," now together with his son Jacob Cornelisz Honig (1707-1770).
THE PRINTED TEXT
Highly significant is the fact that the square font employed for the scroll's unleaded and unvocalized printed text was one commonly used in Amsterdam in the last twenty years of the17th century and in the 18th century. It is most probable that in this period all of the Hebrew printers in this city obtained their types from the same typefounder. While the current state of research on Hebrew typography of the 18th century does not yet enable one to determine the exact identity of the megillah's printer, several candidates exist. A likely choice, according to Offenberg, is the Brothers Proops (Joseph, Jacob and Abraham Proops), who were active in Amsterdam between 1734 and 1773.
THE "AMSTERDAM" BORDER
Having established the paper megillah's origins in Amsterdam, in the middle of the second half of the 18th century, one may now argue with considerable certitude that the entire series emanates from the Dutch capital. A foremost center of Hebrew printing during the 18th century, Amsterdam in fact produced thousands of high quality publications, most of them for foreign markets in Central and Eastern Europe. It is thus of little surprise to discover that the engraved megillah borders exerted their most profound influence on hand-painted scrolls from Germany, Bohemia, Moravia and Poland, regions which revered and imported Amsterdam books. It may even be suggested that these scrolls were created principally for export: not only were they sent to Poland without text (to be completed by local scribes), but they were also illustrated in a distinctly Bohemian/Moravian style. This latter quality, which has been viewed as evidence of the borders' Bohemian/Moravian origin, may now be seen as a highly successful attempt to appeal to the tastes of a foreign market.