Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts

For over a thousand years the pre-eminent expression of Armenian culture was the illuminated manuscript--above all, the illustrated Gospel Book. Brilliantly painted and often bound in silver and decorated with jewels, these volumes constitute the principal source of information on the history, religion, language, and art of Armenia. It is estimated that there are now 31,000 extant Armenian manuscripts, which represent only a small fraction of the codices copied throughout the centuries in numerous scriptoria. These surviving manuscripts are scattered in the world in libraries, museums, and private collections. With over 20,000 volumes, the largest repository of Armenian manuscripts is in the Madenataran (Library of Manuscripts) in Yerevan, the capital of the Republic of Armenia.

The second largest collection, consisting of about 4000 manuscripts is in the library of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, followed by an estimated total of 3,000 volumes in the library of the Armenian Mekhitarist order on the island of San Lazzaro in Venice, Italy and a smaller collection in the Mekhitarist Monastery in Vienna, Austria. The rest can be found in Musei Vaticani in Rome, in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, in the British library in London, in the Bodleian library in Oxford and throughout other major cities in Europe and the United States. The following modest list of works and digital sites would serve as an introductory resource guide into the subject of Armenian Illuminated manuscripts, as each of these works have their own extensive bibliography and linked websites provide further resources. One of the challenges in referencing works about Armenian manuscripts, is that a substantial amount of the available books are in Armenian. I have limited the following resource guide to the English language, covering the subjects of iconography, miniature art, sample of Armenian manuscript catalogues and Armenian paleography.

1. Armenian Studies Program, California State University Fresno by Dr. Dickran Kouymjian: This website includes the online version of the book The Arts of Armenia, Lisbon, 1992. It includes two indexes: Armenian Architecture and Armenian Miniatures, accompanied by a collection of 300 colored slides. The link to the “Armenian Miniatures” index features a chronological database of Armenian manuscripts, with images, from nine collections around the globe. Manuscripts are listed by the catalogue number of their respective collections. The index is further divided into three additional links: complete list of all available manuscripts, a complete thumbnail index of all available illumination images and a searchable database. This site is a must see and a great introduction to the history and art of Armenian illuminated manuscripts.

2. Mathews, Thomas F. and Sanjian, Avedis K. Armenian Gospel Iconography : the tradition of the Glajor Gospel. Washington, D.C. : Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1991: Major monographic study by art historian Thomas F. Mathews, Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University and the late UCLA scholar Avedis K. Sanjian. This is the most complete and authoritative work on all aspects of the tradition of Armenian Gospel Iconography. It discusses in detail the historical setting, the development of Armenian painting, the iconographic method and individual chapters are dedicated to the Iconography of the Life of christ, the Canon Tables and the Evangelists' portraits. In addition, it has English translations of the colophons, the inscriptions and the Gospel prefaces. Includes color plate illustrations and tables of the works of the five painters, pigment analysis and, liturgical uses.

3. Treasures in Heaven : Armenian illuminated manuscripts / edited by Thomas F. Mathews and Roger S. Wieck. Princeton University Press, 1994 : Treasures in Heaven is the first comprehensive introduction in English to the art and history of Armenian manuscript painting. It reveals the degree to which this art form embodies a distinctively Armenian aesthetic and religious experience. Eighty-eight of the most significant examples of Armenian manuscript illumination are reproduced and extensively discussed in the catalogue. Essays by a team of international scholars examine each of the principal schools and periods of Armenian illumination--from the earliest surviving works of the seventh century to manuscripts produced by the Armenian Diaspora communities during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Chapters on the history and religion of Armenia place illuminated manuscripts within the broader context of Armenian culture. The distinctive techniques and materials of Armenian manuscript painting and bookbinding are also explained. Contributors to this volume include Helen C. Evans, Nina G. Garsoian, Thomas F. Mathews, Krikor H. Maksoudian, Sylvie L. Merian, Mary Virginia Orna, and Alice Taylor.

4. Der Nersessian, Sirarpie, 1896 – 1989. Washington, D.C. : Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, c1993: Miniature painting in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia from the twelfth to the fourteenth century, in two volumes. As the author’s final book, this is considered the culmination of a long career devoted to the exploration of Armenian art and it reflects a unique knowledge of the manuscripts and their painters gained over a period of six decades. No one has contributed to the understanding of Armenian art and its Byzantine context than Der Nersessian. Volume II is entirely comprised of illuminations.

5. Sanjian, Avedis K. Colophons of Armenian Manuscripts 1301-1480 : a source for middle Eastern History. Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 1969: Selected, translated and annotated by the author, this volume contains invaluable information on local and regional historical events through the collection of colophons dated from 1301 to 1480. It includes a nine page detailed bibliography. The link is attached to the digital version of the book available for download.

6.Acta Jutlandica LXIX:1: Humanities Series 68 /edited by Henning Lehmann, Joseph Johannes Sicco Weitenberg. Aarhus University Press, 1993: Papers from the Association Internationale des Estude Arméniennes (AIEA) workshop held at Sandbjerg, the Conference Centre of Aarhus University, in July 1989, on the subject: "Priorities, problems and techniques of text editions." These collection of eleven papers deal with problems and variants in Armenian manuscript text editions, identifying textual groups within the Armenian Manuscript tradition and the relationship between text and illustration. Three papers are in French.

7. Matenadaran (Library of Manuscripts): Scientific Research Institute of Ancient Armenian Manuscripts named after Mesrop Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian Alphabet, in Yerevan. The matenadaran houses more than 23.000 manuscripts, fragments and parchments. Manuscript collection digitization project has been undergoing since 2007 and will continue in the future. As a whole, the digitized manuscripts’ quantity has now reached approximately 4000. One of the main purposes of the Matenadaran is the scientific description, preparation and publication of the “Mayr Tsutsak,” or the Main Catalogue of Armenian Manuscripts of Mashtots Matenadaran. Currently nine volumes are available both in analog and digitized versions. "Mayr Tsutsak" is projected to have 40 volumes.

8. Sanjian, Avedis K. Medieval Armenian Manuscripts at the University of California, Los Angeles. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1999: Detailed catalogue descriptions of ninety-one items of the Armenian Manuscript Collection (No.2089) in the Department of Special Collections at the University Research Library of the University of California, Los Angeles. Thirty-nine of these items are complete manuscripts; thirty-nine are codices with extensive lacunae; and thirteen are fragments of manuscripts. The link will take you to the Armenian Manuscripts Digital Collection.

9. Nersessian, Vrej. Catalogue British Library, 2012 : A catalogue of the Armenian manuscripts in the British Library acquired since the year 1913 and of collections in other libraries in the United Kingdom. Volume I includes the history of the collections, the sources of Armenian Iconography and is divided by types of manuscripts. Each entry includes description, binding, provenance, contents, commentary and, if applicable, colophons in Armenian and its respective English translations. End of volume II includes two appendices: Numerical table of Armenian Manuscripts and Designations of the Manuscripts by Collections. The provided link features a treasure item of the British Library: The Four Gospels in Armenian dated 1166.

10. Yeretzian, Seeroon. Seeroon darer : Armenian ornate initials : from the past to the present for the future. Published/Distributed:Glendale : Abril Publishing, 2013: This book is beautifully and colorfully designed. It is a compilation of the ornate letters of nearly all of the Armenian illuminated manuscript illustrators. The book is a picture guide with the purpose of acquainting readers not familiar with the complexities and richness of ornate initials used throughout the history of the Armenian illuminated manuscripts. It includes a seventeen page introduction about illuminated manuscripts, in general, and the symbolism of the different figures, characters and types of Armenian ornate initials, in particular. The letters are magnified with precise drawings and paintings and each chapter is devoted to one letter of the Armenian Alphabet. The ultimate guide to deciphering Armenian manuscript ornate letters.

11. Stone, Michael,E. Album of Armenian paleography / Michael E. Stone, Dickran Kouymjian, Henning Lehmann. Aarhus University Press, c2002: The Album of Armenian Paleography provides a comprehensive selection of some 200 definitively dated, handwritten texts, sampled from among the 30,000 manuscripts preserved in the major public collections of Europe, the Middle East, the former USSR and North America. Selected specimen pages from these manuscripts are presented in chronological order, and span the period from AD 862 to 1911. Each text is illustrated by a high-quality color facsimile of a typical page, and is accompanied by an alphabet table for the folio in question and a sample transcription. In addition, each facsimile page is accompanied by a color enlargement of several lines of the text, enabling the reader to study the lettering in even greater detail. In a separate section, computerized tables are used to show changes in the forms of individual letters. By following the development of letter shapes, it is possible to discern the evolutionary process of the Armenian scripts in a far more detailed and sophisticated manner than the traditional division of the Armenian hands into types: erkatagir (uncial), bolorgir (minuscule), notrgir (cursive); thereby providing much more precise datings than those previously available to scholars. The foundations are thus laid for a better understanding of the chronology of Armenian manuscripts and the literature and art they contain. This volume will be an indispensable tool for any serious student of the Armenian language, literature and art, and its innovative approach to the study of lettering will be of interest to paleographers and codicologists.

12. Arshagouni, Hagop & Arshagouni Marilyn. Armenian history timeline, 1998: This is a chronological timeline of the Armenian history. It covers the span of centuries from 3000 BCE to 1992 CE, with a vertical running dateline on the left margin of each page. Each event has a brief entry, it also includes black and white and colored illustrations. This is a favorite of mine and it is included in this resource guide as a quick reference to significant dates in the history of Armenian people, to place a given manuscript in the context of the social and political atmosphere of its time. The book also includes a bibliography for further reading.