Italian Purim: the Megillah in Costume
Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries the art of decorated Scrolls (Megillot) of Esther reached its height in Italy.
The scenes from the story of Esther depicted in these decorated scrolls accompany the Esther narrative like a theatre play. The depiction of the main protagonists in theatrical poses is probably inspired by the ‘Commedia dell’Arte’, a folk theatre popular in Italy from the 17th century onwards, with all its set types and effects.
Set in a typical Baroque and Rococo atmosphere, the illustrations also depict Purim festivities, such as dances and masquerades, drawing inspiration from popular stage adaptations of the story of Esther. The main figures of the story are portrayed in drawings that resemble the figures of the Commedia dell’Arte, whose characters usually represent fixed social types and stock characters, easily recognized by the audience from each character’s costume.