Sunday, September 23, 2018

Esther 7, 9: Not Narrative

Uses of the book of Esther for artists:
  • Reason to paint beautiful woman or a pageant of beautiful women.
  • Reason to paint scenes in a harem.
  • Reason to paint a wild party with drunken guests.
Those are generally the categories of paintings of Esther. There are some post-Holocaust connections drawn between Haman and the Nazis. There are some paintings of Vashti sitting alone in her room after refusing to display herself at the wild party with drunken guests. 

The episodes of the story of Esther are rich inspiration for artists. Images of Esther serve as an inventory of what counted for beauty in every era, style and nation that saw artists painting Esther. Her indictment of Haman is often very dramatic: her arm is outstretched - ramrod straight - as she points directly to the man who seeks to eliminate her people. 

Esther megillot (megillah is derived from the word for scroll; megillot is the plural form) traditionally are put on one roller - at the left-hand side - rather than two. The megillah shown here was illustrated by Israeli artist Ya'akov Agam about 1980. Rather than the typical scenes of an exotic foreign court, the artist has illustrated the megillah with abstract designs. Despite the second commandment, there are megillot with figurative illustrations. Agam, however, is known for his colorful, geometric work. He has used his signature style here for the story of Esther. 
Ya'akov Agam. Esther Scroll. c. 1980. Screenprint and ink on parchment. Washington, DC: Library of Congress.
What is lost - or gained - by this approach to the story? Do you miss the costumes and drama? Do you appreciate the clean lines and vibrant color? 

OK...a little bit of the Esther narrative is showcased on Art&Faith Matters' Facebook page.  

For thoughts on Mark 9:38-50, click here

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