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A Catalogue of Illuminated Esther Scrolls

Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Esther Scrolls by Dr. Dagmara Budzioch is the only catalogue containing a significant number of existing illuminated scrolls presented in a comprehensive manner, with their illuminations, descriptions and specifications.
The Book of Esther written on a parchment scroll is one of the main Jewish ceremonial objects. Megillot Esther are produced for fulfilling the precept of celebrating the festival of Purim, and are used twice a year – on Purim’s eve and morning. The Halakha prescribes that the Book of Esther must be read from a parchment scroll, written in a way similar to the Torah scrolls. In contrast to Sifrei Torah, however, the text of the Book of Esther does not include the name of God, thus enabling its decoration.
Esther scrolls exemplify an important feature of Jewish culture – the continued usage of handwritten books in the form of a scroll, even in the age of printing. Illuminated Esther scrolls thus became one of the most significant genres of Jewish book art and one of the major media where Jewish artists could express their creativity.
Decorated Esther scrolls started to be produced apparently in the second half of the sixteenth century (the earliest known dated decorated scroll was written in 1564), and the majority of preserved historical scrolls were made between the second half of the seventeenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries. At this period the production of illuminated Esther scrolls, which differed significantly in terms of motifs and decorative elements, layout and techniques, gained its greatest popularity among the Jews of Italy, the Netherlands and Central Europe. This artistic tradition became popular in Jewish culture, common in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities throughout Europe, which continues to this day. The custom of decorating the scrolls with images was also common in North Africa, Middle East and Iran.
The Center for Jewish Art thanks institutions and private collectors for providing images of Esther scrolls and permitting to publish them in this Catalogue. All these institutions and individuals are listed in the field “Collection” below.
We hope that this catalogue will be an important tool for scholars, collectors and a general interested public and shed more light on the object the cultural and historical value of which remains highly underestimated.