Opening decoration: The scroll opens with a panel containing several narrative scenes from the Esther story. In the decorative panel, in the central part of the upper register, there is the royal couple seated on the throne with a canopy that is placed on a pedestal. The king and the queen are accompanied by courtiers; on the right stand the princes of Media and Persia (Es. 1:14), and Esther's maidservants stand on the left (Es. 2:9). Below, there are three rectangular frames: the central panel contains the benedictions recited before the Megillah reading, while the panel on the right shows the chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, hanging on two gallows (Es. 2:23). The one on the left depicts Haman and his sons hanging on three gallows (Es. 7:10 and Es. 9:14 or Es. 9:25). The lowest register also contains three episodes (from right to left): Mordecai receiving the clothes from Hatakh (Es. 4:4), Haman leading Mordecai through the streets of Susa (Es. 6:11), and Esther and Mordecai writing letters instructing the Jews to observe Purim (Es. 9:29).
Landscapes nos. 1-4 are printed in the upper margin, and in the lower margin, there are frames with illustrations nos. 1-4:
Frame 1: The feast of Ahasuerus (Es. 1:3-8). Six men are seated at a round laden table. Servants are also depicted on either side of the table.
Frame 2: Queen Vashti is shown being strangled by two women standing on either side of her. During the execution, she stands with her arms spread, and her crown lies on the floor. It is relevant to note that the Book of Esther does not mention the fate of Vashti after her refusal of the king's order, and thus the source for this illustration remains unknown. The same theme, though depicted in a slightly different way, can be found in the "Esther scrolls with portrait medallions" and their copies made by hand, as well as in the scrolls designed by Marcus Donath (Mordecai ben Jozl Sofer) of Nitra (see their descriptions in the Index).
Frame 3: This frame contains an illustration of the walled city. In the central part of the wall, there is a gate at which a man (Mordecai) is seated (Es. 2:19, 2:21).
Frame 4: Ahasuerus and Esther's wedding ceremony is shown in this frame. The scene is witnessed by a group of men standing on the right and a group of women standing on the left. The Book of Esther does not mention this episode either. and so the source for this representation also remains unknown. It may have been influenced by European paintings in which the scene of the marriage of the Virgin Mary and Josef was similarly composed. This can also explain the dress of a man standing in the center that refers to the high priest's robes. The same theme, although illustrated in a slightly different way, can be found in the "Esther scrolls with portrait medallions" and their copies made by hand, as well as in the scrolls designed by Marcus Donath (Mordecai ben Jozl Sofer) of Nitra (see their descriptions in the Index). The scene is inscribed: ותלקח אסתר (Es. 2:8).
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Ahasuerus and the seven princes of Persia and Media (Es. 1:13-15) | Seven princes of Persia and Media (Es. 1:14)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Seven maidens given to Esther (Es. 2:9)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Bigthan and Teresh hanged (Es. 2:23)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Mordecai receiving clothes from Hatach (Es. 4:4)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Mordecai's triumph (Es. 6:11)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Mordecai and Esther writing the Purim letter (Es. 9:29)
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) | Execution of Vashti - strangulation
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Mordecai at the king's gate (Es. 2:19 and/or 2:21)
E | Esther, Book of (following the order of the story) | Ahasuerus' and Esther's wedding
L | Landscape
P | Putto (Putti in Plural)
C | Columns
A | Acanthus Leaf
V | Vase | Vase with flowers
The Book of Esther in Hebrew with initial benedictions
The scroll is formed of 4 sheets containing 16 columns of the text with 24 or 27 lines, except for col. 14 with 11 lines divided into two parts.
Every sheet contains 4 columns of text.
The text is inscribed in the Hebrew square script, in brown ink on the flesh side of parchment membranes.
The letters ח (Es. 1:6) and ת (Es. 9:29) are highlighted by their size. Other enlarged and diminished letters are included in col. 14.
The initial word of the Megillah is enlarged and bolded.
The ruling - made with a hardpoint - is slightly visible.
The sheets in the scroll are stitched.
The benedictions open with enlarged and bolded words ברוך written separately in the lines. The formulas are inscribed in the square script. Two of them include the ligature of א and ל letters.
There are two variants of the scrolls decorated with this pattern that in the Index are marked "I" and "II". In some exemplars, just below the decorative herms, the pedestals with angel's heads and bases were added, therefore, the text panels are higher; this type is marked with "II". Whereas, the rest of the manuscripts containing no pedestals with angel's heads and bases are marked with "I". The latter are more numerous.
Similar narrative scenes are included in the scrolls with "portrait medallions".
The earliest scroll sharing a similar engraved pattern is dated to 1701; this is the megillah BCM 25 from the Braginsky Collection in Zurich (see http://braginskycollection.com/esther-scrolls/; accessed on 22.04.2020).
The scrolls sharing the same or similar pattern are discussed for example in:
Jiřina Šedinová, From the Mss. Collections of the State Jewish Museum in Prague. The Scrolls of Esther, "Judaica Bohemiae" 1979, nr 15/2, 79-80.
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, 234-237.
Schöne Seiten. Jüdische Schriftkultur aus der Braginsky Collection, eds. Emile Schrijver, Falk Wiesemann, Evelyn M. Cohen, Sharon Liberman Mintz, Menahem Schmeltzer, Zurich 2011, 282-283.
Victor Klagsbald, Catalogue raisonné de la collection juive du Musée de Cluny, Paris 1981, 63-64, object 72.
Falk Wiesemann, Codex hebraicus 159, [in:] Irina Wandrey ed., Manuscript Cultures, vol. 6, 257-259.
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 megillot Ester w XVII i XVIII wieku. Zarys problematyki], Warszawa 2019, 1:163-176, 2:41-49.