Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This rare ornamental case contains a handwritten scroll of the Book of Esther, one of the books from the Writings section (Kituvim in Hebrew) in the Hebrew Bible. It comes from a Jewish community in the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey).
- The scroll was created by a Jewish-Italian artist who settled in Amsterdam around 1641.
- Traditionally the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester in Hebrew) is read aloud in the synagogue during the festival of Purim. It celebrates how Esther, one of the king’s wives, was a courageous woman who helped save her Jewish community from disaster.
- The Megillat Ester is written in Hebrew on vellum or parchment (made from the skin of a kosher animal) and rolled on a handle within a protective case.
Jewish communities were located across a wide expanse of the Ottoman Empire. Among the Jews of Izmir (Western Turkey on the coast of the Aegean Sea) under the Ottoman Empire, it was customary for the father of a “marriageable” daughter to present a prospective suitor with an Esther scroll in a lavishly decorated case.
The fish motifs on this Esther scroll case have symbolic meaning. Purim occurs during the Hebrew month of Adar, and its zodiac symbol is Pisces (fish). The fish images also represent a biblical text that refers to fish in terms of fertility. These types of scrolls often served as engagement gifts.
Resources for Teachers:
- Explore another Esther scroll from the Magnes Collection at the University of California, Berkeley.
- View a rare Esther scroll from the Museum of Art and History of Judaism in Paris, France.
- View a painting that depicts the Jewish heroine Esther, whose story provides the traditional explanation for the Jewish holiday of Purim.
Resources for Students: