Illustrated Megillat Esther (Book of Esther), Ferrara (Italy), 1616
The National Library collects many illustrated Megillot Esther. The most unique megillah in the library is also the most ancient, perhaps one of the earliest extant megillot. It was written and illustrated by Moshe ben Avraham Peshkarol in the Italian city of Ferrara in 1616 and is over four meters long and 27 centimetres tall. According to the biographical information it includes, it was written for Mordechai ben Eliyahu Halevy from Brescello, a small town near Parma in northern Italy.
The Megillah is very colourfully decorated with blue-green columns dividing it into sections. Between these columns is a vase from which emerges a branch adorned with flowers. Each column rests on a rectangular base on which there is an illustration of an animal, bird, or plant. At the top of each page there is a figure of a man in full attire. Above the columns are illustrations of situations described in the text which demonstrate contemporary Italian, and not the original Persian, materialistic culture (clothing, food, dwellings, etc.).
Watch this video about the Megillah for more information (click on the icon for subtitles).
Teachers of Jewish History could use this Megillah to teach about the history of Italian Jewry. In lessons preceding Purim, Jewish Studies teachers could compare the illustrations from the Megillah with the text. This source could also be used when teaching about the requirements for writing holy books. Art teachers could compare the Megillah to other illustrated manuscripts and have students create their own versions of a scene from the Megillah.
The Megillah is written on parchment. What else is written on parchment? Try and find out how a megillah is written.
Describe the illustrations in the Megillah. Do they represent life in Persia at the time of the Purim story or life of a different time and place ? Why do you think this?
Many artists have illustrated Megillat Esther. Why do you think so many have chosen to illustrate this specific story?
Look on the NLI website and other sites (such as Google Images) for photos of illustrated megillot. Choose one you like and explain why.