This scroll represents the type called Gaster I (for explanation, see "Additional Remarks"), lavishly decorated megillot produced in a mixture of print and manuscript techniques: the decorative border is printed as a copper engraving and colored by hand, while the Hebrew text of the Book of Esther is penned by a scribe. The opening section is filled with a rich, precisely rendered, decoration of tendrils, flowers, and animals that surround a cartouche; in this scroll, it is not entirely preserved because the right edge was trimmed. The upper and lower margins are decorated with repeating endless knot motifs alternating with 20 cartouches enclosing one up to three scenes that chronicle the narrative of the Book of Esther. The ten text panels, in which nineteen text columns are included, are interspersed by stylized floral decoration. The same scheme repeats on all three membranes forming each scroll from this group. The pattern ends with a symmetrical decoration composed of large flowers and foliate ornaments surrounding a cartouche. In the scroll from the Rylands Library collection, the background of the endless knot ornaments and the cartouches containing the narrative scenes is left colorless and both cartouches are blank.
Length of the sheets in the scroll: 1) ca. 500 mm, 2) 510 mm, 3) ca. 275 mm, 4) 205 mm.
Dimensions of the selected details in the scroll:
- text panel: 81x103 mm;
- cartouche with a narrative scene(s): 28x93 mm (inner dimensions);
- decorative belts above and below cartouches and endless knot patterns: 5 mm;
- an average letter: 2 mm (height);
- letters in col. 16: ca. 4 mm (height);
- space between the lines of the text: ca. 2 mm.
The manuscript is poorly preserved. The text is in especially bad condition - large parts are erased or seriously faded; there are some ink pittings too (e.g. in col. 16). In some places, an additional layer of ink is placed on the original text.
The scroll lacks a part of the opening and final decorations, therefore, the manuscript is shorter than a typical exemplar of Gaster I megillot.
There are a few holes in the first membrane.
The printed border and paints are faded.
The blank side of the membranes is rather dirty.
The membranes are sewn in an unaesthetic way and they are crumpled.
The Book of Esther in Hebrew
The scroll is formed of 4 sheets containing 19 columns of text in total with 22 lines each, except for col. 16 which has 11 lines divided into two half-columns.
For unknown reasons, the third membrane of the scroll was cut into two pieces which were stitched together (all typical scrolls representing Gaster I type are composed of 3 membranes).
The number of columns per sheet: sheet no. 1 - 6 columns, no. 2 - 8, no. 3 - 4, no. 4 - 1.
The text is written in Hebrew square Italian script on the flesh side of parchment sheets, which are of medium thickness and slightly stiff. The blank side of the membranes is more yellow than the other side; some hair traces are still visible on it.
The color of ink is difficult to determine because in many places only some remains of the original text are visible; they are brown remains in the shape of the letters.
It cannot be determined whether the letter ח (Es. 1:6) was marked in any way because this part of the text is not preserved. The letter ת (Es. 9:29) is highlighted by its size - the letter is enlarged and bolded but it is not well visible. Enlarged and diminished letters are included in col. 14.
The ruling made with a hard point is slightly visible; vertical lines are more visible than horizontal lines.
The pricking is invisible.
The sheets 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 that is described here). 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 the Klagsbald type (see in the Index).
The scroll belonged to Moses Gaster's (1856–1939) collection. In his hand-written catalogue, it is listed under no. 710. At the beginning of the scroll, in its upper margin, there is an inscription in black ink: "710 M. Gaster".
Bibliography concerning the scroll from the Rylands Library:
Moses Gaster, Handlist of Gaster Manuscripts Held Mostly in the British Library (formerly British Museum), London, and in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, London 1995.
Mendel Metzger, The Earliest Engraved Italian Megilloth, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 1966, 48/2, 381–432.
Its images (nos. JRL16041351-JRL16041356) are available on https://luna.manchester.ac.uk (accessed on 28.10.2020).
Selected bibliography concerning other scrolls decorated with the same border:
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.