Fresno State Seal
ASP Logo Armenian Studies Program
http://armenianstudies.csufresno.edu
Home FeedbackScholarships
 
Campus Home Directories Search
Campus Home Directories Search

THE EVOLUTION OF ARMENIAN GOSPEL ILLUMINATION:
THE FORMATIVE PERIOD (9TH - 11TH CENTURIES)

    The text of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, has been enhanced with illustrations from the earliest times. The categories into which this art can be classified include narrative, miniatures, symbolic or dogmatic representations, portraits, and decorations. From the beginning, picture format and size varied greatly from the smallest marginal renderings to full page paintings. Because very little Christian illumination has survived from before the ninth century, our understanding of how the Bible was illustrated at its inception is based on a restrained number of illustrated codices and later manuscripts copied from earlier models now lost.

    The early evolution of Bible art in Armenia is confined almost entirely to Gospels, since the first surviving illustrated Armenian Bible dates from the thirteenth century. From the period before the mid-ninth century, only a single illustrated Armenian manuscript fragment has come down to us. From the ninth to the end of the tenth century, some thirteen illustrated Gospels are known, only nine of which are complete or nearly so.1 The situation is better for the eleventh century with twenty-two firmly dated whole Gospels and no fewer than eight others attributed to the same century.1 The second half of the twelfth century and the thirteenth encompass the flowering of the Cilician Armenian painting tradition, aesthetically the high point in Armenian art, represented by a large number of manuscripts and miniatures. There is a steady progression in the quantity of illustrated Gospels during the following four centuries, except for the sixteenth; however, even though there are moments and regions of exceptional brilliance, the quality of art is reduced. Gospel illumination in this post-Cilician period gradually evolves toward a static and predictable schema.

    The purpose of this study is to explain how Armenian Gospels were illustrated, 1 particularly up to the Cilician period, 2 and to compare the Armenian approach with other early Christian traditions.

The Earliest Works

    The unique remnant of Armenian miniature painting from the period before the Arab occupation consists of two folios bearing four full-page miniatures called today the "Final Miniatures" of the Etchmiadzin Gospels because they were bound in at the end of the latter codex executed in 989 A.D. Though this fragment is unaccompanied by any writing on which a palaeographic analysis might help localize its time of execution, Sirarpie Der Nersessian has, to universal satisfaction, demonstrated that the miniatures date from the late sixth or the early seventh century and were used to illustrate an Armenian Gospel. 3 In addition to establishing the provenance and date of these miniatures, she also proposed that they represent a complete cycle, rather than a surviving fragment of a longer cycle. The four miniatures represent two Annunciations (to the high priest Zachariah and to the Virgin), the Presentation of the Magi, and the Baptism. 4 Because there are no scenes from the Passion of Christ, no Crucifixion or Ascension for instance, common in Christian art of the paleo-Christian period, the earlier notion that this was only the first part of a group of miniatures seemed natural.

    Already in this early period there came into being the germ of a narrative cycle depicting the main events in the life of Christ, themselves linked to the most important feasts of the church calendar. In Byzantine art, particularly in icon painting, probably by the eleventh century, a fixed cycle of twelve feasts emerged. 5 The four miniatures in the Etchmiadzin Gospel, according to Der Nersessian, do not represent such a "narrative" cycle, but rather a dogmatic one, ending with Baptism, the most important religious celebration of the Armenian church in this early period. Baptism represented salvation, as is clear from the fifth century catechism, The Teachings of St. Gregory, which found its way into the text of the History of Agathangeghos. 6 The baptism conferred on Christ the power of salvation; His later passion merely confirmed His power to save the baptized soul. 7

    This cycle has an early parallel in Armenian relief sculpture. On a stele near the seventh century church of Odzun there is an abbreviated cycle of four scenes - Virgin and Child, Annunciation, Nativity, and Baptism - reminiscent of the Final Miniatures of the Etchmiadzin Gospels. These would reinforce the idea of a self-contained short cycle in the early period of Armenian art terminating with the Baptism. 8

    Only with the beginning of Armenian self-determination in the second half of the ninth century does enough comparative material survive to describe the various approaches to Gospel illumination in the Armenian tradition. From the ninth century only two dated and illustrated Gospels are known: the Queen Mlk_e_ Gospels of 862 (perhaps even 851) and the Lazarian Gospels of 887. The latter manuscript preserves only four illuminated pages of arcades, three around the Letter of Eusebius and a fourth as support for the first canon table. These are executed in the most rudimentary style. Nevertheless, despite their lack of artistic value they reflect an understanding of the conventions of Gospel decoration, by, for instance, the custom of mounting peacocks on each side of the arcade. 9

    The Mlk'e_ Gospels, named after an Artsruni queen, a later owner, is now part of the Mekhitarist collection at San Lazzaro, Venice. Its splendid artistic quality is unrivaled in Armenian miniature painting of the early period; only in several works of the eleventh century do we find a painterly technique to compare with it. Like all early Gospel manuscripts it is large, 33.5x28 cm, and executed on beautifully polished white parchment. The manuscript is in excellent condition, the text is complete, but, unfortunately, an uncertain number of painted pages are missing from the interior of the first quire. Eleven full page illuminations survive, three pages for the Eusebian Letter, three for Canon Tables I, II, III-IV, [missing folio(s)], the Ascension, and portraits of the four Evangelists. 10 Even though we do not know with certainty how many folios are missing, Mesrob Janashian argued there were four, allowing for eight pages of illuminations: 11 probably four for the missing Canon Tables and four for subject miniatures. We can be certain, however, that the series of miniature paintings ends with the Ascension, since the verso of that folio has St. Matthew's portrait.

    In one respect our two oldest examples are similar: both group their illuminations together at the beginning of the manuscript. This was to become the standard for Armenian Gospel manuscripts, though occasional deviations from this practice are found in almost every epoch. Yet, the series of miniatures has changed. It is not possible that the supposed missing folios of the Mlk'e_ Gospels carried on them the four scenes of the Etchmiadzin fragment. First, there is no other example in Armenian art of a cycle of miniatures containing two Annunciations, furthermore the Ascension makes little sense without the Crucifixion, and, finally, the most popular subject in Armenian miniature painting is the Baptism, extremely rare are cycles where it is missing. The high quality of the painting of the Mlk_e_ Gospels, the impressionistic use of color, and the illusionistic style employed points to an inspiration from a pre-iconoclastic, classicizing Byzantine model. 12 The subjects for such a cycle of five miniatures would probably be Annunciation, Nativity, Baptism, Crucifixion, and Ascension, or Nativity, Baptism, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. 13

Arrangement of Illuminated Pages

    The order of individual illuminations in the series of paintings which opens virtually every Armenian Gospel manuscript follows the system devised in the first quarter of the fourth century by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea in Palestine (314 to 339), who developed the series of canons which serves as a synoptic concordance to the Four Gospels. 14 The vertical columns of the Canon Tables bring together in each horizontal row the occurrence of the same episode in the Gospels listed vertically; this is the reason for the variation of one to four vertical columns under each of the arches. In a letter addressed to Bishop Carpianus, and by tradition invariably placed just before the canons, Eusebius explained the system. Because of the success of this concordance, Eusebius received a commission from Emperor Constantine to execute fifty finely written and luxuriously bound copies of the Gospels containing the canons for the new churches of Constantinople. No doubt the arrangement - Eusebian letter, the ten Eusebian Canons, [Gospel scenes], Portraits of the four Evangelists - of these fourth century Gospels, none of which has survived, was to serve as the universal model15 for all Gospel manuscripts. 16

    The Armenians thus accepted the "received tradition" and seem not to have deviated from it. Carl Nordenfalk17 emphasizes the archaic features of tenth and eleventh century Armenian canon tables and their decoration.

    There are very few illustrated Gospel manuscripts from the paleochristian period. None in any language exists from either the fourth or the fifth century and just a handful from the sixth. The most famous of the early illustrated Gospels is called the Rabula Gospels, executed in Peshitta-Syriac in 586 at the Monastery of St. John at Zagba in northern Mesopotamia. The similarity of some of the decorations of its Canon Tables as well as the architectural construction of canon arches of other sixth century Gospels and fragments with the Mlk'e_ Gospels canons and certain tenth century Armenian manuscripts, has led Der Nersessian and Nordenfalk18 to suggest that the Canon Tables of ninth, tenth and eleventh century Armenian manuscripts archaically preserve as faithfully as any other witnesses the arrangement and decoration of the original fourth century models. Was this schema already used by Armenians in the fifth century? Was one of the "authentic copies of the God-given book" spoken of by Koriun19 as being brought from Constantinople to Armenia to be used by the translators of the Armenian Bible a Eusebian prototype or one made from it? The suggestion is a fetching one.

Tenth Century Illumination

    The tenth century offers a more complete profile of Gospel illumination, and, therefore, a more complicated one, based as it is on five dated20 and two undated manuscripts21 and four fragments. 22 The oldest among these, the Translators' Gospels of 966, differs in artistic style and the layout of its miniatures from the Mlk_e_ Gospels and contemporary manuscripts of the tenth century. 23 Of the initial gathering of five illuminations, one of the folios has Canons IX and X on its two sides, followed by a miniature of the Virgin orant and Child, the colophon in a large decorative frame, and a geometric cross with arms of equal length, which completed the series, because on its verso is the beginning of the Gospel of St. Matthew. The most notable new elements are the termination of the miniature cycle by a full page cross, a completely symbolic image representing the Redemption through the Crucifixion and Resurrection. The contrast with other manuscripts of the tenth century is reinforced further by the intrusion in the text of marginal decorations - principally birds, flowers, and fish - and three half page portraits of Evangelists and saints depicted in pairs under arches at the end of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

    This departure from the tradition already witnessed in the Mlk'e_ Gospels of placing the Evangelists' portraits together at the beginning of the Gospels points to another method of illustration, one which goes back to antiquity, and which in the thirteenth century and after becomes the universal mode in Armenia. Portraits of classical philosophers and physicians were often placed as frontispieces in their works. A sixth century Dioscorides contains one of the best known author portraits in early Byzantine art; the type was to serve as a model for the portrait of St. John in paleo-Christian, Byzantine and Armenian Gospels. Only in certain quality manuscripts of the second half of the eleventh century24 is the practice, foreshadowed by the Walters Gospels, of placing the likeness of each Evangelist on the verso folio facing the first page of his Gospel introduced into Armenia. In the same eleventh century works the incipit pages are decorated with a dense rectangular floral band at the top and a tall ornamental first letter running vertically along the left margin. There is an inconsistency, however, in the Gospel of 966, in the first introduction of Evangelists' portraits within the text. The portraits of Matthew and Mark together at the bottom of the page on which the text of Matthew ends, and that of Mark und Luke at the end of the Gospel of Mark, 25 suggest that Luke and John should appear at the end of the text of Luke, whereas in fact at that spot there are two figures, perhaps saints, stylistically resembling the others, but rather than holding Gospels as in the previous paintings they are shown with arms outstretched in the orant position. 26 The use of illuminations between Gospels remains unique. 27

    A final new feature in this Gospel of 966 is the appearance of marginal decorations throughout the texts of the four Gospels. These include a tree at the opening of Matthew, floral and geometric decorations, many birds, fish, and crosses. This practice is continued in certain manuscripts of the eleventh century. In the fourteenth century and after it not only becomes a norm, but the representations and their place in the text become formalized, their subject matter defined: a cross in the margin at the place of the crucifixion, a dove when the Holy Spirit is mentioned. The very first true example of marginal decoration with an iconographic content is found in the body of the Etchmiadzin Gospels of 989. Few in number, these small paintings placed in the margins or between the double columns of text and in one distance at the bottom of a page, were probably added in the eleventh century, by which time the Final Miniatures were certainly part of the Gospels since at least one of the marginal designs copies the miniature of the Adoration of the Magi. 28 The Syriac Rabula Gospels of 586 already used marginal miniatures, usually abbreviated scenes, not in the text proper but in the upper and outer margins of the pages with canon arcades. 29 In the sixth century Rossano and Sinope Gospels, luxury works executed on specially dyed purple parchment, marginal scenes are grouped, like those of the Rabula Gospels, at the beginnings of Gospel texts at a distance from the passages to which they refer. 30 In the post-iconoclastic period, a series of Psalters, known as marginal Psalters, are profusely illustrated in all the margins with narrative scenes from the Old and New Testaments; the oldest of these, the Khludov Gospels dated between 829 and 837, is the most famous. 31

    The skillful yet naive paintings of the Gospels of 966, preoccupied more with design and color than an accurate representation of human and animal forms, reveal for the first time an indigenous Armenian art independent of classical and illusionistic influences. One is tempted to call this style monastic32 in opposition to the grander style of the Mlk'e Gospels and sumptuous manuscripts of the eleventh and the thirteenth centuries, for the most part patronized by the aristocracy and high church dignitaries, often themselves of noble stock. The textual decorations found for the first time in this manuscript should not be regarded as peculiar to the monastic style, even though it is only in the next century that sumptuous Gospels, such as that of Gagik of Kars, use similar, though more elegant, marginal paintings. Thus, the idea of marginal decorations in the pages of the Gospels was not an original creation of the artist of the Walters Gospels. On the other hand, no other manuscript, Armenian or not, that I know of, places the Evangelists' portraits in groups of two in between the texts of their respective Gospels.

    The Gospels of 966 display for the first time in Armenian manuscripts a number of new artistic elements: marginal decorations, ornate incipits, miniatures in the body of the text, canon arcades composed of non-architectural, geometric elements, and dogmatic or symbolic miniatures. The latter features, represented by the Virgin orant with Child (fol.2) and a large ornamental cross, become constant features in manuscripts of the eleventh century. The cross as symbol of the Crucifixion and ultimately the Redemption, and the Madonna and Child that of the Incarnation, are paintings with no precise reference to the Gospel text, but dogmatic or didactic statements about Christianity.

    Both of the two remaining dated and illuminated Armenian Gospels of the tenth century are in Erevan. The Gospel of 986 is the oldest to present the Eusebian Letter and the Canon Tables on exactly ten folios, two for the letter and eight for the canons, a convention that becomes the rule in the Cilician period and after. 33 This new arrangement eventually permitted artists to employ the devise of mirror-image decorations on facing arcaded pages. It became popular in the second half of the twelfth century34 and universal in the Cilician period and after. The first example that I know of is in the Gospels of 1038, now in Erevan. 35 The only other illumination in the manuscript of 986 is a full page cross (fol. 7).

The Etchmiadzin Gospels

    The Etchmiadzin Gospels copied and illustrated in 989 at Noravank' in Siunik' is the most famous of early Armenian manuscripts. A facsimile edition was already published seventy years ago and its miniatures are well known to specialists of East Christian art. 36 The codex is in very good condition and complete. All illuminations and miniatures are at the beginning of the manuscript: Eusebian Letter on two pages, the canons on seven, followed by six miniatures, three with arches and two framed, only the last one is a narrative scene. The stout arches decorating the Eusebian Letter are like those of the Mlk'e Gospels; the canon arcades, however, bear only simple single arches without another all-encompassing arch supported by the outside pillars as in the Mlk'e Gospels and the undated tenth century manuscripts, 37 which otherwise bear a strong likeness to the Etchmiadzin Gospels. These single arches are used in the Canon Tables of the Lazarian Gospels of 887, in the Walters Gospels of 966, and on a fragment preserved in Erevan. 38 This simple type of arcading virtually disappears after the first half of the eleventh century. 39 The evolution of Canon Table decoration is so rapid that even the large encompassing single arch is absorbed and disappears by the twelfth century into a larger decorated rectangle which rests directly on the columns. The earliest dated example of this final stage in the ornamentation of Canon Tables of Armenian Gospels is found in the manuscript of 1053 already mentioned above. 40

    The Evangelists in the Gospels of 989 are found on identical facing leaves, but are unidentified and unidentifiable. They are standing in pairs under massive arches resembling the one used for the second page of the Eusebian Letter; right hands are raised, left ones hold a Gospel. 41 Though stylistically they reflect a reduced classicism (some have called it a provincial rendering of the refined Byzantine style) the arrangement in pairs follows a practice first witnessed in the monastic Gospels of 966. The sixth century Rabula Gospels already showed the Evangelists in pairs, two standing and two seated. 42 The undated tenth century Jerusalem Gospels, similar in arrangement and decoration to the Etchmiadzin Gospels, though artistically inferior, also have the Evangelists in pairs on facing pages in the same pose, but this time they are identified. 43

    The Evangelists' portraits in the Etchmiadzin Gospels are preceded by a unique miniature showing a youthful enthroned Christ offering the benediction and holding a long cross in his left hand, on each side of Him is a nimbed figure, holding a book, suggesting two Evangelists or perhaps Peter and Paul. The scene is placed under the same massive doorway-type arch already discussed. Placed before it is the first miniature of the series, a curious domed structure with four visible columns between which hang drawn or knotted curtains; the rotunda is ogival and is surmounted by a sphere and cross, decorated with flowers and ducks. On each side of the structure are small cypress trees. 44 Josef Strzygowski called this edifice a tempietto, a small temple or sanctuary. 45 The source of this symbolic miniature is surely the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem as it stood before its destruction by the Persians in 614. 46 As such it was represented on the sixth-seventh century reliquary box in the Vatican and the ampullae of the same date from the Holy Land. It is a powerful symbol of Christianity, marking the spot where the crucified Christ was resurrected. The related Jerusalem Gospel manuscript also has a tempietto located just after the Canon Tables, and so have the fragments of two other tenth century Gospels in Erevan and Vienna. 47 After the tenth century this image disappears from Armenian art. 48

    Insofar as the six miniatures of the Etchmiadzin Gospels can be spoken of as a series, they are dogmatic: the Holy Sepulchre, Christ in majesty, the Evangelists, followed by the Virgin orant with the Christ Child on her lap, and the Sacrifice of Abraham. We have already seen in the Baltimore Gospels the same important place given to the Virgin and Child as a representation of the Incarnation. The final miniature, the Sacrifice of Abraham, is an Old Testament episode that at first sight seems out of place in a Gospel manuscript. Yet it is found in two other tenth century Armenian Gospels, that of Jerusalem, where it is placed on the same page as the Virgin and Child at the end of the illuminated section, 49 and that of the Vienna fragment where it follows the tempietto as the first miniature of a cycle of five narrative scenes. 50 Not only was this scene a powerful way of connecting the Old and New Testaments, it also served as a symbolic anticipation of the Crucifixion, the sacrifice of the Son by the Father. The scene was already sculpted on the façade of the Church of the Holy Cross on the Island of Aght'amar in the first quarter of the same tenth century. 51 After the tenth century the Sacrifice of Abraham disappears from Gospel illustrations, to reappear in the fourteenth century, mostly in the Vaspurakan region where the church of Aght'amar was the most famous shrine. 52

    The fragmentary Vienna Gospels preserve only the first quaternion of miniatures: Eusebian Letter on three folios, the Canon Tables on seven, followed by six miniatures - a tempietto, the Sacrifice of Abraham, and the Annunciation on the same page, the Nativity, Baptism, Crucifixion, and the four Evangelists, arranged two above and two below on a single page. 53 The canon arcades share the resemblances already remarked upon with the Etchmiadzin Gospels and Jerusalem Gospels. Its miniature series begins with a tempietto and like its cousins contains the Sacrifice of Abraham, but with a slightly modified iconography. 54 The Evangelists' portraits, however, are grouped together on a single page and put at the end of the series. Unquestionably, the most important feature of this manuscript is its narrative cycle. It is the earliest extant in Armenian miniature painting since the four final miniatures of the Etchmiadzin Gospels of the late sixth or early seventh century. It contains the first Crucifixion to be preserved in an Armenian manuscript as well as the first full Nativity. The cycle's function with regard to the text is between a didactic narrative, whose purpose is to tell the story of the Gospels in pictures, and a symbolic or dogmatic statement which elucidates doctrine. By ending with the Crucifixion, the artist has underlined the notion that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old; the Sacrifice of Abraham, which brought him individual grace, is here completed by the ultimate sacrifice of God, which affords salvation for all.

    Armenian Gospel decoration up to the eleventh century is strikingly focused on the meaning behind a painting rather than the action depicted in it. The Virgin and Child, Christ enthroned, the cross, the tempietto, and the intrusion from the Old Testament of the Sacrifice of Abraham all underline this approach. The exception may have been the Mlk'e Gospel cycle with its surviving Ascension. This phenomenon is to give way already in the eleventh century to a more descriptive narrative cycle, one that by the middle of that century already includes fifteen distinct Gospel episodes.

The Eleventh Century

    The eleventh century presents a special episode in Armenian miniature painting; Sirarpie Der Nersessian, Tatiana Ismailova, and others have isolated it as such. 55 Nearly all of the 40 or so illustrated manuscripts of the period are dated or attributed to the first three quarters of the century, more precisely before the fall of the Bagratid capital Ani in 1064. It is not possible in this communication to detail the history of each important manuscript; there are too many. Only major features will be mentioned to afford a sense of the evolution of Armenian book art.

    Three very distinct innovations are remarked in the ornamentation of Armenian Gospel manuscripts in the eleventh century: 56 1) a long narrative cycle is introduced, 2) manuscripts with narrative miniatures interspersed throughout the texts of the Evangel make their appearance, 3) sumptuous or expensive Gospels are decorated in a formally different way than poorer monastic or provincial ones.

    Until the eleventh century, only two series of miniatures of the Life of Christ have survived and they are separated from each other by 400 years: the four final miniatures of the Etchmiadzin Gospels, and the five scenes of the Vienna fragment. At least eighteen eleventh-century Gospels have one or more narrative miniatures, of which seven contain between one and three scenes, then there are two with four, one with five, one each with seven, eight, and twelve, two with fifteen and two with more than fifty. Among them is a group of five manuscripts, three of which are missing some of their miniatures, 57 dated to the mid-eleventh century and originating from the western regions of Sebastia and Melitene where Armenians migrated in the wake of the eastern assault of the Seljuk Turks. The two complete manuscripts, Jerusalem MS 3624 of 1041 and Matenadaran MS 3784 of 1057, contain the same fifteen-scene narrative cycle identically arranged on ten folios, the surviving miniatures of the three defective Gospels fit nearly exactly into this cycle. 58 Add to these three other manuscripts from different ateliers with five (incomplete), seven and twelve scenes59 , and it becomes evident that before the devastating blow inflicted on Armenian art by the Seljuk invasions, Armenian Gospel illumination was moving toward the incorporation of a larger narrative cycle of between twelve and sixteen scenes. The subjects of the Gospel scenes chosen in these manuscripts correspond to the major feasts of the church calendar. 60 In all of these manuscripts the paintings are grouped together at the beginning. With the exception of the interlude represented by the Cilician school, the long cycle of the Life of Christ miniatures placed before the texts of the Gospels becomes the norm in the Armenian art until the end of manuscript production in the eighteenth century. 61

    Two manuscripts of the eleventh century, however, display a totally new approach (at least in the Armenian tradition) to illumination. In both the Gospels of King Gagik of Kars dated between 1029 and 1064, now in Jerusalem, and the newly uncovered Gospels of the Catholicos now in the Matenadaran in Erevan, there is a vast cycle of miniatures scattered throughout the codex: 62 in the Catholicos' Gospels and originally more than 200 in the Kars Gospels, though only seventeen have survived the manuscript's mutilation. 62 Such interweaving of illustration and text was already common in Byzantine works of the tenth and eleventh centuries; its antecedents go back to such sixth century luxury Gospels as the Rossano and Sinope Gospels, 63 even though in these works miniatures were usually placed at the top or the bottom of the text or grouped together at the beginning. This method of illumination became especially popular in Armenia among Cilician artists in the second half of the thirteenth century, most notable are T'oros Roslin and the painters of the Lectionary of King Het'um and related works. 64 It continued to be used occasionally in Gospels of later centuries such as the Crimean Gospels of 1330 in the Vienna Mekhitarist collection, which has 119 miniatures positioned in the text, 65 and the Glajor Gospels of 1300 1307.

    The other Gospel book with textual miniatures is very different in style and execution from the once elegant Gospels of King Gagik. The Gospels of the Catholicos is a provincial manuscript with very mediocre paintings far removed from the classicizing refinement and warm and brilliant coloring of the Jerusalem Gospels. Its 62 miniatures testify to the diversity of the subjects illustrated: one is from the Old Testament and only ten from the standard cycle of feasts. 66 These two profusely illustrated Gospels testify to the presence in Armenia of intensively illustrated models.

    The contrast in style between the sumptuous richness of the Gagik of Kars Gospels with its splendid white parchment, superior calligraphy, use of goldleaf and the best pigments, and the poor painting, inferior materials, subdued colors and lack of goldleaf in the Catholicos's Gospels, brings us to the third constant in the decoration of eleventh century Armenian Gospels. Beyond their stylistic and artistic dissimilarity, there is a striking formal difference between these two groups of manuscripts. The poorer provincial ones have their miniatures painted along the height of the page, but since all of the manuscripts of this group, except one, contain full page miniatures grouped at the beginning, no real problem is presented, one simply rotates the manuscript 90 degrees to see the picture as it should be viewed. Yet, in the exceptional Gospels of the Catholicos, in which the illustrations are inserted within a normally written text across the width of the page in double columns, the miniatures are still painted sideways following the height of the page. No adequate explanation for this phenomenon has been given; for the moment it is simply to be noted that the vertical placement is consistent for all stylistically provincial manuscripts. 67 Except for a number of archaic holdovers from the Vaspurakan region, this peculiar method of painting scenes vertically disappears after the eleventh century.

Conclusion

    Though innovations in decoration are introduced after the eleventh century by such skilled artist as T'oros Roslin, it can be safely argued that in the Armenian tradition all major approaches to illuminating the Gospels were experimented with and refined by 1064. This can be called the formative period in Armenian miniature painting. Gospels were the vehicle par excellence for Armenian miniature painting; it is through the Gospel text that the major problems in book illumination were worked out. The diversity of decorative approaches in the early manuscripts reflects the multitude of artistic currents available to Armenian painters. The serious study of the purely formal approach to Gospel illumination will, along with the more accepted tools of text criticism, codicology, iconography, and style, aid in establishing the parentage of artists and scriptoria in the long chain of Armenian manuscript illumination that joins the sixth to the seventeenth century.

Additional Note: While in Erevan in July 1991, I was able to examine some photographs of the Tsrghut' Gospels of 974 (see n. 22 supra and Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, no. 6). It has a number of narrative miniatures; thus, it will have to be taken into consideration in future discussions on early cycles (see pp. 17f. supra). The canon tables seem to be arranged using a mirror image effect similar to Erevan MS 6201 of 1038 (see p. 17 supra), but predating it by more than 60 years. A. Matevossian and the late T. Izmailova have prepared a study (unpublished) which discusses the Tsrghut' Gospels.




1The most important examination of Armenian book illustrations up to the eleventh century was undertaken by Sirarpie Der Nersessian; in reply to two earlier studies by Josef Strzygowski;, who claimed that the miniatures of the Etchmiadzin Gospels of 989 were painted by Syrian artists in the sixth century: J. Strzygowski, Das Etschmiadzin-Evangeliar. Beiträge zur Geschichte der armenischen, ravennatischen und syro-ägyptischen Kunst, Vienna, 1891; idem, "Ein zweites Etschmiadzin-Evangeliar," Huschardzan, Vienna, 1912, pp. 345-352; S. Der Nersessian, "The Date of the Initial Miniatures of the Etchmiadzin Gospel," The Art Bulletin, vol. 15, no. 4 (1933), pp. 327-360, reprinted in eadem, Byzantine and Armenian Studies. Etudes byzantines et arméniennes, 2 vols., Louvain, 1973, pp. 533-558, page references to the reedition will be used in references below. For the eleventh century see Tatiana Izmailova;, Armjanskaja miniatjura XI veka [Armenian Miniatures of the Eleventh Century], Moscow, 1979.

2The Cilician period is thoroughly treated by Sirarpie Der Nersessian in her last major work now in press. The completed manuscript was turned over to Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies in September 1989, two months after her death.

3Erevan, Matenadaran MS 2374; S. Der Nersessian, "La peinture arménienne au VIIe siècle et les miniatures de l'Evangile d'Etchmiadzin," Actes du XIIe Congrès International des Etudes Byzantines, Belgrade, 1964, pp. 49-57, reprinted in eadem, Byzantine and Armenian Studies, pp. 525-532.

4Thomas Mathews; has discussed the iconography and its sources for each of the four scenes and their theological implications in "An Early Armenian Iconographic Program of the Ejmiacin Gospel (Erevan, Matenadaran MS 2374, olim 229)," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 1980: East of Byzantium: Syria and Armenia in the Formative Period, N. Garsoian, T. Mathews, R. Thomson, editors, Washington, D.C.; Dumbarton Oaks, 1982, pp. 199-215.

5Kurt Weitzmann;, Studies in Classical and Byzantine Manuscript Illumination, Chicago-London, 1971, p. 292.

6Robert Thomson;, The Teachings of St. Gregory. An Early Armenian Catechism. Translation and Commentary, Cambridge, Mass., 1970.

7Thomson, Teachings, pp. 211-2, discusses the theology in more detail.

8The scenes are found on the west face of the northernmost of two obelisk-like pillars to the south of the church. Their order from top to bottom is Virgin and Child, Nativity, Annunciation, and Baptism. See Levon Azarian;, Vagh mij_adarian haykakan k'andake [The Early Medieval Armenian Stele], Erevan, 1975, p. 56; N. Stepanian; and A. Tchakmaktchian;, Art décoratif de l'Arménie médievale, Leningrad, 1971, fig. 29; J.-M. Thierry; and P. Donabédian;, Les arts arméniens, Paris, 1987, p. 78.

9Erevan, Matenadaran MS 6200; see G. Khalat'eants' , Evangile traduit en langue arménienne et écrit en l'an 887. Edition phototypique, Moscow, 1899; Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, p. 5, figs. 17 and 19

10Venice, Mekhitarist Congregation MS 1144/86; Mesrop Janashian, Armenian Miniature Paintings of the Monastic Library at San Lazzaro, Venice, 1966, pp. 16-23, whose dimensions I use rather than those of B. Sarkissian;, Grand Catalogue des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque des PP. Mekhitaristes de St.-Lazare, vol. I, Venice, 1914, col. 373, that is 35x29.5 cm. The larger dimensions are cited in Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, p. 3. Sarkissian also mis-identified the portraits of the Evangelists, but Janashian has corrected this information following earlier art historians like J. Strzygowski and K. Weitzmann.

11Janashian, p. 16, is convincing in his reconstruction for the first quire. He postulates that four leaves were used for the rest of the Canon Tables - V, VI-VII, VIII-IX, X - and supposes the other four were painted with narrative episodes.

12On the general question of the impact of the classical world on Armenian painting see D. Kouymjian, "The Eastern Case: The Classical Tradition in Armenian Art and the Scaenae Frons," Byzantium and the Classical Tradition, Birmingham, England, 1981, pp. 155-171, and idem, "The Classical Tradition in Armenian Art," Revue des Etudes Arméniennes, XV (1981), pp. 331-356.

13The famous reliquary box from Palestine dating to roughly 600 A.D., now in the Vatican's Museo Sacro Cristiano, contains the Nativity, Baptism, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension; see J. Beckwith;, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, Harmondsworth, 1970, fig. 44. These same scenes are also found on the small metal ampullae of the Holy Land from the same period preserved in the churches of Bobbio and Manza; see A. Grabar;, Les ampoules de Terre Sainte, Paris, 1958

14These manuscripts were executed in Greek. Carl Nordenfalk, Die spätantiken Kanontafeln, Göteborg, 1938; Beckwith, pp. 16-7.

15The Eusebian canon was already known in Italy in the late fourth century through the Latin Vulgate version of St. Jerome.

16That the Evangelists' portraits were included in the manuscripts prepared by Eusebius has wide acceptance. Albert M. Friend;, "The Portraits of the Evangelists in Greek and Latin Manuscripts," Art Studies, 5 (1927) and 7 (1929). The question of whether miniatures of Gospel subjects were also included is less certain

17Nordenfalk, Die spätantiken Kanontafeln.

18Der Nersessian, "Etchmiadzin Gospel," passim; Nordenfalk, Die spätantiken Kanontafeln, passim.

19Koriun, Life of Mashtots', edition M. Abeghian;, Erevan, 1941, p. 76.

20The illustrations of two of these remain unknown to me: Sofia, National Library MS 537 of 966 A.D. containing four Canon Tables, and the Tsrghut' Gospels (kept in the village of that name in Akhalkale) of 974 and partially published by G. Hovsep'ian;: see Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, pp. 8-9, for full bibliography.

21One of these, Venice Mekhitarist MS 123/68, contains six illustrated folios, one devoted to part of the Eusebian letter, the others, Canon Tables simple in style which remain unpublished. The other, Jerusalem, Armenian Patriarchate MS 2555, will be discussed shortly; see Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, nos. 10 and 11 respectively.

22Three of the four fragments are detached leaves or folios with Canon Tables: see Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, nos. 9, 13, 14. The other, Vienna Mekhitarist Library MS 697, preserves an entire quire of eight illuminated double folios and will be discussed below.

23Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, MS 537; see Sirarpie Der Nersessian, Armenian Manuscripts in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1973, pp. 1-5, figs. 1-21; Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, pp. 6-7. On the style see Kouymjian, "The Classical Tradition in Armenian Art," passim.

24Erevan, Matenadaran MS 3793, the Gospels of Sandghkay Monastery near Ani dated 1053; see Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. II, no. 8; Izmailova, Armjanskaja miniatjura XI veka, figs. 57-63. Erevan, Matenadaran MS 7736, the Moghni Gospels also of the second half of the eleventh century and probably executed somewhere in the Ani region; see Index, II, no. 20; Izmailova, figs. 89-96. The fragment of another lost Gospel of 1060 known through the photographs of G. Hovsep'ian, Matenadaran MS 10099, suggests it belonged to this same category (Izmailova, figs. 76 79). On these three eleventh century manuscripts see T. Ismailova, Miniature arménienne: Hovhannes Sandoughkavanetsi, Erevan, 1986, text and title in Armenian, Russian, and French.

25Ff. 72 and 114v respectively; see Der Nersessian, Walters, figs. 7 and 9. In each case, the page following the portrait is the beginning of the next Gospel.

26Der Nersessian has, therefore, labeled them "saints", Walters, p. 2, fig. 12; it is not, however, clear what saints and why they are in a Gospel text. The style of these figures conforms to that of the others. The identifying inscription of these "saints" has been effaced on this f. 192.

27Only one early Christian manuscript has scenes from Gospels gathered in between two Gospel texts: the sixth century Latin Gospels of St. Augustine, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge; see André Grabar, Christian Iconography. A Study of Its Origins, Princeton, 1968, p. 91, figs. V, 234. In this case they are narrative miniatures and not portraits of the Evangelists.

28For illustrations see Frédéric Macler, L'Evangile arménien. Édition phototypique du ms. no. 229 de la bibliothèque d'Etchmiadzin, Paris, 1920; on the dating of these marginal miniatures, see A. Barkhudaryan;, "Ejmiacni Awetarani grch'ut'yan vayre [The Locality of the Copying of the Etchmiadzin Gospels]," Banber Matenadarani, 4 (1958), pp. 43-59.

29C. Cecchelli;, G. Furlandi;, M. Salme;, The Rabula Gospels, Olten-Lausanne, 1959, a fascimile edition; similar vignettes occur in another early Syriac manuscript, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS syr. 33.

30A discussion of these manuscripts can be found in Grabar, Christian Iconography, pp. 91-2, figs. 227-229.

31M. V. Shchepkina;, Miniatjury xludovskoi psaltyri, grecheskii illjustrirovannyi kodeks IX veka, Moscow, 1977; Eng. summary, pp. 315-318, a facsimile edition.

32Der Nersessian calls this style "abstract"; on the style see Kouymjian, "The Classical Tradition," for a more detailed discussion.

33Though in this manuscript they are not yet on five pairs of facing pages; see Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, p. 10. For illustrations of a Canon Table, see A. N. Svirine;, La miniature dans l'ancienne Arménie, Moscow-Leningrad, text in Russian, fig. on p. 37; Thierry and Donabédian, Les arts arméniens, fig. 293.

34For examples: Venice, Mekhitarist MS 196, from Greater Armenia, see S. Der Nersessian, Manuscrits arméniens illustrés des XIIe, XIIIe et XIVe siècles de la Bibliothèque des Pères Mekhitaristes de Venise, 2 vols., Venice, 1937, figs. 2-9; and a Cilician Gospel of 1193: Baltimore, Walters Gallery of Art, MS 538, see Der Nersessian, Walters, figs. 23-32, the arrangement of the initial folios of this manuscript has been disturbed.

35Matenadaran MS 6201, ff. 1v-2, see Izmailova, op.cit., figs. 20-1.

36Macler, L'évangile arménien; see Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, pp. 11-12 for essential bibliography, figs. 45-49.

37Jerusalem, Armenian Patriarchate, MS 2555, and Vienna, Mekhitarist Library, MS 697, to be discussed below; see Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, nos. 10, 12 for folios and bibliography, illus. 85-94 (Jerusalem 2555); for the Vienna Gospels, see Heide and Helmut Buschhausen;, Das Evangeliar Codex 697 der Mechitharisten-Congregation zu Wien. Eine armenische Prachthandschrift der Jahrtausendwende und ihre spätantiken Vorbilder, facsimile, Berlin, 1981.

38See Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, for all of these manuscripts. The fragments are Matenadaran MS 9430, two double folios, in form, style and execution nearly identical to the Etchmiadzin Gospels. The fragment in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, MS 789, included as no. 13 in the Index of Armenian Art, I/1, p. 18, figs. 101 106, has since been shown to be part of a Gospel, Erevan, Matenadaran, MS 7353, dated 1296: A. Gevorgian;, "The Newly Discovered Pages of a Manuscript of Voratan," Patma-Banasirakan Handes (1989), no. 3, pp. 214 218 (in Arm.).

39Note the following eleventh century examples: The Adrianople Gospels of 1007 A.D., Venice, Mekhitarist MS 887/116; Matenadaran MS 4804 of 1018 executed at the Monastery of Talash in the Kghot region, see Izmailova, Armjanskaja miniatjura XI veka, figs. 1-2; Matenadaran MS 283 dated 1033, see Izmailova, ibid., fig. 11.

40Erevan, Matenadaran MS 3793, see supra and Izmailova, Miniature arménienne, figs. 15 and 16; they are also found in the undated Beguntz and the Moghni Gospels, ibid., and the Trebizond Gospels, Venice, Mekhitarist MS 1400, see Janashian, op. cit.

41Macler, ff. 6v, 7; Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, figs. 56-7.

42Matthew and John, f. 9v, standing under slender arches; Mark and Luke, f. 10, seated under baldachins; see Cecchelli, Rabula Gospels. The Evangelists in the Mlk'e Gospels also conform to this arrangement, two are seated, Matthew and Mark, and two standing, Luke and John, but each occupies a separate page.

43F. 7v Mark and Matthew, f. 8 Luke and John; see Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, figs. 76-7. The Jerusalem Gospels, copied in Taron, must have had a similar model. See J. Strzygowski, "Ein zweites Etschmiadzin-Evangeliar," pp. 345-352, and Der Nersessian's discussion in "Etchmiadzin Gospel," pp. 544ff.

44Macler, L'évangile arménien, f. 5v; Der Nersessian, "Etchmiadzin Gospel," p. 544, fig. 294; Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, fig. 54.

45Strzygowski, "Ein zweites Etschmiadzin-Evangeliar," pp. 58-61; Der Nersessian, ibid., and others have followed this terminology.

46Paul Underwood;, "The Fountain of Life in Manuscripts of the Gospels," Dumbarton Oaks Papers, V (1950), pp. 41-138.

47Jerusalem MS 2555, f. 7; Matenadaran MS 9430, f. bv; Vienna MS 697, f. 6, respectively figs. 75, 63, and 95 in Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I. All four tenth-century examples are placed directly after the Canon Tables as the first miniature of the series, as a pictorial prologue to the Gospels. The use of this powerful symbol ends with the tenth century. It was suggested by Nordenfalk that the series of arcades represent a church, the solid arches of the Eusebian Letter being the outside and inside of the entrance, the canons, the columns and arches in the main aisle of a basilican church and the tempietto the sanctuary. Another is found in the Georgian Adysh Gospels of the ninth century; several Carolingian examples are known in which they are associated with a baptismal font and the Fountain of Life, and, finally, several are known from Ethiopian manuscripts of the fourteenth century and after. See Underwood, "Fountain of Life," for illustrations of some of these works.

48There is one archaic example of the eleventh or twelfth century in an Armenian Gospel manuscript now in Jerusalem, MS 2562, f. 3, and another of 1316 in Erevan, Matenadaran MS 4914; for the latter see L. Zakarian;, Iz istorii vaspurakanskoj miniatjury, Erevan, 1980, pl. 26.

49Jerusalem MS 2555, f. 8v; Der Nersessian, "Etchmiadzin Gospel," fig. 304; Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, fig. 78.

50Vienna, Mekhitarist Library MS 697, f. 6v; Der Nersessian, ibid., fig. 304; Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, I, fig. 96. The miniature represents two scenes: the Sacrifice of Abraham and below it the Annunciation. This cycle will be discussed below.

51S. Der Nersessian, Aght'amar. Church of the Holy Cross, Cambridge, Mass., 1965, fig. 22.

52In addition to the three tenth century examples, the files of the Index of Armenian Art record 23 other miniatures of the Sacrifice of Abraham, dating from 1305 (Vaspurakan) to 1605: three from the fourteenth century, seventeen from the fifteenth century, and three from 1586 to 1605.

53F. Macler, Miniatures arméniennes. Vie du Christ, Paris, 1913, pls. I-VIII; Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. I, p. 17, figs. 85-100; H. and H. Buschhausen, Die illuminierten armenischen Handschriften der Mechitharisten-Congregation in Wien, Vienna, 1976, German, Armenian, and English editions, pls. 1-16; idem, Das Evangeliar Codex 697.

54See Der Nersessian, "Etchmiadzin Gospel," pp. 544-550, for a discussion of the different iconographical types of these two scenes.

55Sirarpie Der Nersessian, Armenian Manuscripts in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, 1963, pp. 2-6; Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. II, pp. 1-3; Izmailova, Armjanskaja miniatjura XI veka; eadem, Miniature arménienne.

56Of course there are more than three new features which appear in this century, but those to be cited are general characteristics in which all manuscripts partake.

57Kouymjian, Index of Armenian Art, fasc. II, Checklist, nos. 6,7,10,19, and three miniatures preserved in a manuscript in the village of Areg; photos of the latter were supplied by Zaven Sarkissian, Curator of the Folk Arts Museum in Erevan. See Chapter III of Izmailova, Armjanskaja miniatjura XI veka, for a detailed discussion of these manuscripts (except for the Areg one) and references to her earlier articles in Revue des Etudes Arméniennes on the same subject.

58Erevan, Matenadaran MS 3723 of 1045 with four scenes on three folios; Matenadaran MS 974 with eight scenes on five folios; the village of Areg Gospels (similar to that of 1041) with three miniatures cut in half because of their use as guard leaves.

59Respectively Venice, Mekhitarists MS 1400, the Trebizond Gospels; Matenadaran MS 6201 of 1038; Matenadaran MS 7736, the Moghni Gospels.

60The seventeen narrative scenes found in eleventh century Armenian manuscripts are Visitation, Annunciation, Nativity, Baptism, Presentation in the Temple, Transfiguration, Raising of Lazarus, Entry into Jerusalem, Last Supper, Betrayal, Crucifixion, Descent from the Cross, Entombment, Harrowing of Hell, Holy Women at the Empty Tomb, Ascension, Pentecost.

61Actually it was at the end of the seventeenth century that Gospels were no longer copied because of the availability of printed Bibles; see the discussion in D. Kouymjian, "Dated Armenian Manuscripts as a Statistical Tool for Armenian History," Medieval Armenian Culture, T. Samuelian and M. Stone, editors, University of Pennsylvania Armenian Texts and Studies, vol. 6, Chico, CA, 1984, pp. 425-438.

62Jerusalem MS 2556; most of them are illustrated in Archag Tchobanian;, La Roseraie d'Arménie, 3 vols., Paris, 1918-1929, passim. A complete list (230) is provided in Table 8 of the just published work by T. F. Mathews and A. K. Sanjian;, Armenian Gospel Iconography: The Tradition of the Glajor Gospels, Washington, D. C. 1991.

63Respectively in Cathedral Treasury, Rossano, Italy, and Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Gr. suppl. 1286, widely illustrated; see André Grabar, Les peintures de l'Evangéliaire de Sinope, Paris, 1948.

64See S. Der Nersessian, L'art arménienne, Paris, 1977, for illustrations.

65MS 242, see Buschhausen, Die illuminierten armenischen Handschriften der Mechitharisten-Congregation in Wien, figs. 24-69; for the Glajor Gospels see Mathews and Sanjian, op. cit.

66Erevan, Matenadaran MS 10780; A. S. Matevossian;, "The Vehapar Gospels," Etchmiadzin (1978), no. 5, pp. 48-56, provides a complete list of these scenes (in Arm.); see also Mathews and Sanjian, op. cit.

67Der Nersessian, Freer Gallery, pp. 3-4, provides the main characteristics of this style; see also Kouymjian, "Classical Tradition in Armenian Art," pp. 279-282.


Home | Feedback | Search | Contact

Program | Upcoming Events | Faculty Courses | Books for Sale | Scholarships | Links
Armenian Students Organization | Hye Sharzhoom

The Armenian Studies Program web page is sponsored by a grant from
The Bertha and John Garabedian Charitable Foundation, Fresno.

Disclaimer Statement