Anonymous: Micrography (Megillat Esther, chapters 1-6 and 6-9), 2nd half of the 19th century, Central Europe
lithographs, 276 x 222 mm (JMP 63.106) / 260 x 207 mm (JMP 63.107)
Two pendants bearing the imaginary portraits of Mordecai and Esther, the main protagonists of the Biblical Book of Esther, an heroic account of a Jewish girl named Hadassah (Esther). Having become Queen of Persia by marrying King Ahashverosh, Esther prevented a genocide that one of the king’s ministers, the wicked Haman, was about to unleash on all the Jews of the Persian diaspora.
The two lithographic prints contain the whole text of the megillat Ester (Hebrew for the Scroll of Esther, as the text, in the form of a scroll, is traditionally read in synagogues the world over during the festival of Purim). Chapters one to six form the bust of Esther’s uncle, the wise and blessed (Heb. barukh) Mordecai, while the portion beginning with the closing part of chapter six and running to the end of the book forms the image of Queen Esther.
Both portraits are conceived in the traditional technique of micrography, an art form practiced by Jews for over a millenium. This special approach to the creation of „graven images,“ which is frowned upon in both Jewish and Islamic traditions, entails the use of minute script to form abstract or figurative shapes and ornamentation. Two types of micrography are largely found in the Jewish tradition: one is purely decorative, based on the principle of hiddur mitzvah (enhancing a good deed – mitzvah – by adding aesthetic value to it); the other is boldly figurative – exemplified by our busts of Esther and Mordecai. In this latter case, Holy Scripture is used as the primary element while the overal shape only amplifies the meaning of what is written, thereby lending justification to the creation of such plain images even in the most traditional milieu.