There are many different versions of the megillah with beautiful illustrations that portray the events, characters, and details of the miracle of Purim.
When was the first illustrated Megillas Esther printed?
To the extent of our knowledge, Masas Moshe, by Rabbi Moshe Alshich, printed in Venice, Italy 1601, is the first publication of an illustrated Megillas Esther. No previous version of Megillas Esther – before 1601 – is known to have Purim Illustrations
Five-miniature wood carved engravings demonstrating the miracle of Purim are printed at the end of the Megillah Esther on page 87.
The caption on the page reads: “They fulfill the mitzvos of matanos l’evyonim, mishloach manos, and mishteh v’simcha. (festivity)
The illustrations are presented as follows:
1) Mordechai Ha’Yehudi
2) Achashverosh sitting on an ornate throne
3) Queen Esther depicted as an angel holding a sword representing the revenge she meted upon Haman. It is possible that this drawing alludes to the explanation of the Zohar that Esther sent an angel to Achashverosh in her stead. (Zohar Parshas Ki Setzei) Another conceivable meaning is that this drawing is a hint to the three angels who accompanied Esther when she went to Achashverosh to plead for our nation. (Maseches Megillah 13b) The Alshich himself expounds on this point in this sefer. (Perek 5-2)
4) Haman girdled with a sword.
The fifth etching is drawn across the width of the page and portrays the mitzvos of Purim.
Why weren’t the illustrations printed in the appropriate places? There is a possible halachic answer to this question. The Rema paskens that one may not publish drawings in a siddur as they can distract one’s attention from the tefilos. Accordingly, Sefer Eliyahu Rabba (Ch. 691) explicitly states that one should not draw pictures in a Megillas Esther as drawings can distract the listener from fulfilling the mitzvah of megillah. This might be the answer as to why the illustrations were placed after the completion of the Megilla.