Illustrated Esther Scroll – Germany-Alsace, 18th Century – Naïve Illustrations Inspired by the French Revolution

Opening: $25,000
Estimate: $40,000 - $50,000
Sold for: $68,750
Including buyer's premium

Esther scroll with color, naïve illustrations. [Germany (presumably Karlsruhe) / Alsace, late 18th century].
Ink and paint on parchment.
Esther scroll; Ashkenazic script in brown ink on three parchment membranes glued together, 9 columns of text (all, apart from the one listing the names of Haman's sons, within roundels), 30-31 lines per column. Set in a rectangular frame with alternate decorations – flowers (carnations and other flowers), branches with leaves and fruit (acorns), animals (birds and peacocks, pairs of fish – symbol of the month of Adar) and octagonal stars (typical of the Upper Rhine region).
The columns of text are set in finely framed roundels, interspersed with thirteen charming figurative illustrations, in a folk, naïve style, depicting scenes from the megillah narrative (or from the Midrash), and accompanied by captions: 1. Achashverosh and Vashti (Achashverosh is seen waving a branch at Vashti – perhaps a branch of nettle, which Vashti is likened to in the Midrash); 2. The city of Shushan (depicted as a European city with a large gate and pointed turrets); 3. An executioner brandishing a cudgel at Vashti; 4. Achashverosh and Esther; 5. Bigtan and Teresh hanging on the gallows; 6. Achashverosh handing his ring to Haman; 7. Two royal scribes sitting on each side of a table; 8. Mordechai sitting at the king's gate which is watched by a guard; 9. Mordechai in royal garb riding the king's horse; 10. Esther falling at the feet of Achashverosh, who hands her his scepter; 11. Haman holding a whip, proclaiming "Thus shall be done to the man…"; 12. Haman hanging on the gallows; 13. The ten sons of Haman hanging on five-tiered gallows. In some of the illustrations, figures from the royal court – Vashti, Achashverosh and Haman – appear dressed in the French national colors: red and blue. These colors, part of the tricolore flag adopted during the French Revolution, may allude to the scroll's provenance from the Alsace region (see below).
The roundel layout of the present scroll is somewhat uncommon in Esther scrolls, though this style can be found in 17th century scrolls scribed by the artist Shalom Italia in Amsterdam. This design is seen again in a group of three Esther scrolls made in Germany in the 18th century, known as "Statt Susonn" (each of them bears the caption "Statt Susonn" identifying the city of Shushan). One of these scrolls, held in the Gross family collection, also features figurative and naïve illustrations (this scroll was reproduced in a limited edition facsimile by Facsimile Editions, London); the second scroll from this group is held in the JTS collection in New York (S44), while the third was sold at auction in New York, 2013 (Sotheby's, 17 December 2013, lot 100A).
The artist who produced the present scroll may have been familiar with one of the abovementioned German scrolls, and there is a definite resemblance between them and the present scroll. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the present scroll is also reminiscent in its style of scrolls produced in Alsace in the 18th century, including scrolls decorated with folk and naïve illustrations. One such scroll, decorated with naïve illustrations, is held in a private collection (Paris) and was exhibited in the "Alsace Jewry" exhibition in the Israel Museum in 1991 (item 38). The exhibition catalog notes that the illustrations were inspired by the French Revolution, with Achashverosh depicted as Louis XVI and Vashti as Marie Antoinette. Like in the present scroll, the illustrations are accompanied by captions (captions are seldom found in Esther scrolls, even in those with figurative illustrations). The presumed provenance of the scroll (according to Sotheby's catalog, 1987) from Karlsruhe, close to the Rhine and the border of France, also strengthens the assumption that the present scroll was produced in the Alsace region during or close to the French revolution.
For other Esther scrolls from Alsace with roundels, see: Israel Museum, MS 182/081; Museum of Jewish History, Amsterdam, M000440. For other scrolls from Alsace, see: The Center for Jewish Art, items 23654, 23770, 39283 (France), 34758.
For another scroll with illustrations inspired by Marie Antoinette and the times, see: Offenberg, Sara, Between Queen Esther and Marie Antoinette: Courtly Influence on an Esther Scroll in the Braginsky Collection, Arts 2022 (Rene Braginsky Collection, scroll no. 7).

125X17.5 cm. Overall good condition. Stains and creases. Tears, including open tears to beginning of first membrane, affecting text and illustrations (several tears repaired). Damage to text and illustrations in other places throughout scroll. Third membrane differs slightly from first two membranes; yellowish tinge.

• Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper, Les Juifs d'Alsace: Village, Tradition, Emancipation (Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 1991), item 38.
• Weyl, Robert and Raphael Freddy (editors), L'imagerie Juive d'Alsace, Strasbourg: Ed. Des derniers nouvelles d'Alsace [c. 1979], pp. 45-47.
• Dagmara Dudzioch, Zdobione zwoje Estery, The Decorated Esther Scrolls, Warsaw, 2019, vol. 1, pp. 38-39.
The scroll is digitized on the NLI website. It is also documented in the Center for Jewish Art (CJA), item 35197.
1. The Collections of Mr. and Mrs. David Weintraub.
2. Sotheby's, 14 December 1987, lot 181.
3. The Gross Family Collection, Tel Aviv, 081.012.027.

Broadsides, Jewish Ceremonial Art, Parchment Manuscripts