Aryeh Leib ben Daniel, the scribe and artist of this illustrated Esther scroll, was born in the town of Goray, about 60 km south of Lublin. His first known scrolls were produced in Poland in the early 1730s, and by 1737 he was working in Germany. Aryeh Leib’s artistic career may be traced through the inscriptions found on his extant megillot, from which we learn that sometime before 1744 he immigrated to Italy and settled in the town of Brescello. Between 1746 and 1748, he is known to have written and decorated several scrolls in Venice. In all, there are a total of nine original illustrated scrolls signed by Aryeh Leib and another sixteen that are unsigned but attributed to him. In addition to the various scrolls for which he was both the illustrator and the scribe, Aryeh Leib is also known to have copied the text of the Book of Esther onto parchment sheets that had been embellished with the engraved border designs of the renowned artist Francesco Griselini (1717-1787); four of these scrolls remain extant.
In the present scroll, scenes from the Purim tale are imaginatively drawn between each column of text. They appear as follows:
1. The feast of Ahasuerus;
2. Esther kneeling before Ahasuerus as the king extends his scepter to her;
3. Haman parading Mordecai through the streets of Shushan on horseback. At right, drawing on a narrative element found only in the midrash (Megillah 16a), Aryeh Leib depicts Haman’s daughter pouring slop on her father from an open window;
4. Mordecai and Esther writing letters to be sent to all the provinces.
Images of the characters from the Purim story are positioned between the columns of text, and a lush border of dense foliage, birds, and flowering vines further decorates the scroll. Medallions placed above the text with the enlarged word ha-melekh (the king) are held aloft by pairs of lions rampant, deer, and hares – a decorative motif found in three of the early scrolls that Aryeh Leib created in Poland, before his arrival in Italy. Another feature indicative of the early phase of Aryeh Leib’s work is the placement of the names of Haman’s sons in the middle of a larger column of text. Although this is not the customary manner in which the names of Haman’s sons are written, it is found in all five of the early scrolls produced by Aryeh Leib.
This charmingly illustrated work by Aryeh Leib ben Daniel of Goray demonstrates the early artistic style of one of the premier scribe-artists of megillot in the eighteenth century.
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