Illustrated manuscript leaf for Purim
Hungary, first half of the 18th-century
Judah L. Magnes Museum purchase, Siegfried S. Strauss Collection
The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, 18.104.22.168
This illustrated manuscript leaf contains the Hebrew benedictions and prayers recited after the Scroll of Esther is read on the holiday of Purim according to the Ashkenazi ritual, including the liturgical poem, shoshanat ya‘aqov.
The Hebrew text is surrounded by six illustrated scenes that refer to the several chapters in the Book of Esther, depicting the story and its main characters: King Ahasuerus, his evil minister Haman, Mordecai, and Queen Esther. Each illustrated scene is linked to a quotation from the Book of Esther: verses 1:3, 3:9, 4:1, 5:2, 7:10, and 6:11.
The pictorial narrative of the page follows the development of the story narrated in the Book of Esther – with the six illustrated scenes to be viewed from top to bottom, right to left – from the initial banquet to the honors bestowed to Mordechai after Haman's execution. However, the Hebrew quotations from the Book of Esther, do not all follow the sequence of the biblical text: chapter 6 appears at the end of the narrative, illustrating the victory of Mordechai over Haman, and following the latter's death described in the ensuing chapter 7. Essentially, the visual narrative of this page seems to deconstruct the biblical text in order to convey the essence of its "plot" in a one-page format.
The text of the benediction is set in a roundel in the upper decorative band. In the center panel are two liturgical poems, incipitasher hania ‘atzat goyim (אשר הניא עצת גוים), "It was You who frustrated the wiles of the peoples and annulled all their scheming devices when there rose up against us the wicked Haman […];" and incipit shoshanat ya‘aqov tzaholah ve-simchah (שושנת יעקוב צהלה ושמחה), "The lily of Israel broke forth in rejoicing when they all saw Mordechai robed in royal purple." (Translation from Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy, 1982).