Very good overall condition, fresh impression, a few stains, especially at the beginning, a hole near the first stitching, stitchings somewhat loose, slightly scuffed, the upper and lower margins occasionally slightly folded, with minimal loss of image in the last column only, the last membrane folded in the outer marginal area, no loss of text or image
The megillah opens with a beautifully illustrated blessing panel, divided horizontally into four registers. The uppermost tier shows Esther and Ahasuerus seated on a double throne, flanked by attending men and women. Queen Esther appears again in the second register, where she is enthroned amidst scrolled foliage, chirping birds, winged putti and rampant lions. The monumental Hebrew inscription, "Megillah Blessings" is emblazoned across this illustration, referring to the three blessings framed in the register below. These blessings, inscribed by hand, are flanked by two hanging scenes: on the right the hanging of Bigtan and Teresh, on the left the hanging of Haman and his ten sons. The final tier of illustrations shows three more "highlights" from the Purim story: Mordechai refusing to bow to Haman, Mordechai riding in triumph through the streets of Shushan, and Mordechai and Esther writing the Purim letter. The entire opening panel is flanked by two fluted columns, entwined with acanthus leaves, surmounted by rampant lions, and standing on plinths decorated with floral vases.
The twelve text columns are enclosed in rectangular frames and separated by monumental herms. The herms, which appear in many variations, are embellished with foliage, flora, fauna, scrolls, shells and cherubs. The upper horizontal border displays twelve bust-length portraits of the Purim characters; each enclosed in a medallion frame with foliate stems. The lower horizontal border shows twelve narrative vignettes, separated by landscape scenes in octagonal frames. The narrative begins with Ahasuerus' feast and ends with the Jews rejoicing and dispatching the news of their redemption. The climactic scene of the Hanging of Haman's sons appears within (rather than beneath) the tenth text column, which records this event. Mordechai is shown at the bottom of the gallow, pointing to the son on the lowest rung.
The final column is filled with blessing and prayers recited after the megillah reading. Two lions carrying a cartouche inscribed with the initial word (Barukh, "Blessed") of the blessing surmount the panel. Beneath the panel is an illustration of five Purim characters, Haman, Mordechai, Zeresh, Esther and Harbonah, each holding an escutcheon bearing their respective blessing or curse. These blessings and curses are the final lines of the prayer Shoshanat Ya'akov (The Rose of Jacob), which is inscribed directly above.
The geographic origins of this richly illustrated border (and its variants) have been debated by scholars for many years. While some have argued in favour of Italy and others in favour of the Netherlands, the border's costumes, interiors, and landscapes strongly suggest a Germanic or Bohemian/Moravian provenance. This attribution is evidenced most clearly in the costume worn by Mordechai: a long black coat with a white ruff, and a large flat black hat, known as a Shabbes deckel. This costume may be seen on numerous artistic products -- printed books, illustrated manuscripts, burial society beakers, and paintings -- emanating from this region.
What is abundantly clear is that these borders circulated widely in 18th-century Germany, Bohemia and Moravia, where they exerted tremendous influence on the region's hand-illustrated megillot. Engaged in an exciting renaissance of Hebrew manuscript illumination, many scribe-artists used these engraved megillah borders as primary models, reproducing in color their format, portraits, and narrative scenes. While such hand-drawn versions range from the remarkably faithful to the creatively free, almost every one of them makes the same fascinating and predictable iconographic change: they depict Vashti's execution as a beheading, rather than as a strangling. The Strangling of Vashti (col 2) is in fact one of several highly unusual scenes depicted by the artist of this engraved border. Others include 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 (above col 10). Also of great interest are the five characters shown beneath the megillah's final column: arranged in a horizontal row, each with an identifying shield, they are depicted as actors and actresses in a contemporary Purim drama.
Interestingly enough, these borders also circulated in Eastern Europe. Preserved in the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary (S 45) is a highly important example which provides crucial information regarding the border's date of production: the megillah's colophon records that the scroll's text was filled in by a scribe in Cracow, in the year 1716. Clearly, the border itself is at least that old.
Benjamin, Chaya, The Stieglitz Collection, The Israel Museum Jerusalem,
1987, no. 188, pp. 270-273
Gross Family Collection, Centre for Jewish Art, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1985, Vol. 2, pp. 467-519
Klagsbald, Victor, Catalogue raisonne de la collection juive du musee de Cluny, 1981, no. 71, pp. 62-63