Sheet 1 (opening decoration and text panels 1-3)
Opening decoration: The opening section of this scroll is composed of foliate and floral ornaments in which the "Four animals" - i.e. a lion, an eagle, a leopard, and a stag - are interspersed. They have no direct relationship with the text of the Megillah or the feast of Purim, but they allude to a quotation from Pirkei Avot - "Ethics of the Fathers" (5:20). At the center, there is a decorative empty cartouche that is supported by two lions with split tails. Below there are two dolphins' masks.
Cartouche 1 (upper margin): In the center of this cartouche, a crowned and bearded depiction of King Ahasuerus sits on a canopied throne in front of a laden table in the palace gardens. He is flanked by three men on the right and four men on the left, all of whom wear turbans and long gowns (Es. 1:3-8). On either side, there are arcaded buildings in which two groups of four figures sit at a table.
Cartouche 2 (lower margin): A crowned Vashti sits under a high canopy at a round laden table in the palace gardens. She is flanked by three women on either side. On the right, a group of servants, all wearing turbans, enter the garden through a gate; the first of them addresses the queen. They most likely come with the king's order that Vashti should appear before him and his guests (Es. 1:10-11). The second scene (on the left) most likely depicts the moment when the queen, after her refusal, is taken from the palace by two men (alluding to Es. 1:19).
Cartouche 3 (upper margin): On the right, the bearded Ahasuerus sits on his throne and is accompanied by the seven princes of Persia and Media. He holds a scepter in his left hand and his other hand points to a man, probably Memucan, who stands before him. Six more men stand behind Memucan and a soldier holding a shield stands behind the king's throne. This scene shows the moment when the king asks his advisers what they think the fate of Vashti should be (Es. 1:13-20). On the left, two king's messengers ride on horseback towards a city in the background (Es. 1:21-23).
Cartouche 4 (lower margin): At the center of this cartouche, a group of women is brought to the king's court (Es. 2:1-4). They are led by a man wearing a turban (most likely Hegai) who holds the first one's hand (Es. 2:8). A carriage drawn by two horses can be seen in the background on the left.
Cartouche 5 (upper margin): In the center, the bearded Ahasuerus, shown here wearing a turban, is seated on the canopied throne, flanked by eight men also in turbans who sit on benches. Both of the king's hands are outstretched: in one of them, he holds a crown which he is about to place on the head of Esther, who kneels before him. Behind her, four women stand (Es. 2:17).
Cartouche 6 (lower margin): On the right, Mordecai is shown wearing a turban, standing within a gate in the wall, and looking at two men who are probably Bigthan and Teresh (Es. 2:21). On the left, Haman is approaching Ahasuerus who is sitting on a raised throne with a canopy. The king holds a scepter in one hand and a ring in the other, which he gives to Haman (Es. 3:10). A man wearing a turban stands behind the throne. In the center of the cartouche, there is a fountain.
The length of the sheets in the scroll: 1) ca. 530 mm, 2) ca. 520 mm, 3) ca. 540 mm (the sheets are wavy, and they cannot be measured precisely).
Dimensions of the selected details in the scroll:
- the print: 165 mm (height);
- floral decorations between the panels: 91x32 mm;
- upper and lower margins: 32 mm;
- cartouche with illustration(s): 97 mm (width);
- an average letter: higher than 1 mm;
- the letters in col. 16: 4 mm (height).
The roller: ca. 345 mm (height).
O | Ornamentation: | Endless knot
O | Ornamentation: | Cartouche
O | Ornamentation: | Foliate and floral ornaments
A | Animals, the Four (Mishnah, Avot, 5:20)
L | Lion | Lion rampant
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Ahasuerus' banquet (Es. 1:3-8)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Vashti's banquet (Es. 1:9)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Ahasuerus and the seven princes of Persia and Media (Es. 1:13-15)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Memucan advises the king regarding the fate of Vashti (Es. 1:19)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Hegai taking Esther and the maiden(s) to the palace (Es. 2:8)
A | Animals and Beasts
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Coronation of Esther (Es. 2:17)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Mordecai with Bigthan and Teresh (Es. 2:21)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Ahasuerus handing his ring to Haman (Es. 3:10)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Ahasuerus' messenger(s) (Es. 1:22)
In general, the scroll is very well preserved - the membranes are in very good condition and the printed border is intact.
The text is relatively well preserved. On the first sheet of the scroll, the text is preserved in the best condition and it contrasts very strongly with the text on the second sheet that is preserved in worse condition than in other places (the second layer of ink is visible here and its shade is different). Some parts of the text are erased.
A part of the roller is damaged.
The scroll is formed of 3 sheets containing 19 columns of the text with 22 lines, except for col. 16 with 11 lines divided into two parts.
The number of text columns per sheet: no. 1 – 6, no. 2 – 8 columns, no. 3 - 5.
The text is inscribed in Hebrew square Italian script with tagin, in dark brown (almost black) ink on the flesh side of the parchment membranes, which are stiff and bright.
The thickness of the sheets varies – the thinnest is the last sheet in the scroll. Both sides of the membranes are different – the blank side is rather yellow and very smooth.
The letter ח (Es. 1:6) is highlighted by its form - it contains two elements joined with a roof; a few other letters ח are inscribed in the same way in the scroll. The letter ת (Es. 9:29) is enlarged and bolded. Other enlarged and diminished letters are included in col. 16. Additionally, in col. 16 two words – איש and עשרת – are smaller than all other words in the column.
Some words that were omitted by a scribe are added above the lines of the text.
The ruling – horizontal and vertical lines - is made with a hardpoint, only inside the text panels. The lines are well visible on the blank sides of the sheets.
The pricking on the third sheet is visible.
The membranes in the scroll are stitched together.
The name "Gaster I" was introduced by Mendel Metzger in his article entitled "The Earliest Engraved Italian Megilloth" (see "Bibliography"). The type was named after Moses Gaster (1856–1939), the rabbi, scholar, and manuscript collector, who owned a scroll adorned with this pattern (at present this is the scroll Gaster Hebrew MS 710 stored in the John Rylands Library in Manchester - ID 36150). At least 25 manuscripts representing this type are still extant and are preserved in private and institutional collections. For their descriptions see "Related objects".
The pattern features a number of decorative elements common with the scrolls of Klagsbald type.
Some details in the scroll – a part of endless knot ornaments and decorative belts along with the sheets - have have been originally painted gold; at present, the paint is not preserved. The number "add. 1013" is inscribed above the first endless knot motif in the upper margin. The library’s stamp on the blank side of the sheet is visible.
According to Reif (see "Bibliography"): "Bought in 1873 from Fischl Hirsh."
Bibliography concerning the scroll from the Cambridge University Library:
Stefan C. Reif, Hebrew Manuscripts at Cambridge University Library, Cambridge 1997, 52.
Selected bibliography concerning other scrolls decorated with the same border:
Mendel Metzger, The Earliest Engraved Italian Megilloth, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 1966, 48/2, 381–432.
Cornelia Bodea, Treasures of Jewish Art. The 1673 Illuminated Scroll of Esther Offered to a Romanian Hierarch, Iaşi–Oxford–Palm Beach–Portland 2002.
A Journey through Jewish Worlds: Highlights from the Braginsky Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books, eds. Evelyn M. Cohen, Emile Schrijver, Sharon Liberman Mintz, Amsterdam 2009, 240-241.
Schöne Seiten. Jüdische Schriftkultur aus der Braginsky Collection, eds. Emile Schrijver, Falk Wiesemann, Evelyn M. Cohen, Sharon Liberman Mintz, Menahem Schmeltzer, Zurich 2011, 262-263.
Dagmara Budzioch, The Decorated Esther Scrolls from the Museum of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and the Tradition of Megillot Esther Decoration in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries – An Outline [Polish: Dekorowane zwoje Estery z Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego w Warszawie na tle tradycji dekorowania megilot Ester w XVII i XVIII wieku. Zarys problematyki], Warsaw 2019, 1:99-119, 2:64-69.
Dagmara Budzioch, "An Illustrated Scroll of Esther from the Collection of the Jewish Historical Institute as an Example of the Gaster I Megilloth," Kwartalnik Historii Żydów 2013, no. 3 (247), 533–547.