New Book Examines 14th Century Illumination

LOS ANGELES–Commemorating the 1700th anniversary of the establishment of the Armenian Church–Getty Publications presents a new title–devoted to rare Gospel book from the destroyed Armenian monastery at Gladzor. The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor (Getty Publications–$39.95 hardcover–$24.95 paperback) accompanies an exhibition of the same name at the J. Paul Getty Museum–open until December 2–2001. The exhibition offers visitors the rare opportunity to see more than 60 unbound pages of the renowned Gladzor Gospels–on loan from the Department of Special Collections of the Charles E. Young Research Library at the University of California–Los Angeles.

"The Gladzor Gospels marks one of the high points of mediaeval Armenian illuminations," says Thomas Kren–the Getty Museum’s Curator of man’scripts–who co-organized the exhibition with Alice Taylor of the West Los Angeles College. "We are pleased that–like visitors to the exhibition. readers of the Getty’s new book will be able to experience the man’script’s illumination much as the 14th-century monks of Gladzor did–lingering over individual pages and the beauty of their miniatures."

The book features color reproductions of most of the man’script’s brilliant miniatures and includes a discussion of the iconographic–historical–and religious background of this medieval masterpiece.

The Life Of Christ Illuminated

The Gladzor Gospels was begun around 1300–almost exactly one thousand years after the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of Armenia–in 301. Two illuminators initially contributed to the ambitious decorative program–but work was suspended until shortly before 1307–when T’oros of Taron and two collaborators supplied more miniatures. In 1377–the Gladzor Gospels came into the possession of an Armenian princess–who treasured it and wrote a prayer in it. Over the course of the following centuries–the man’script traveled across Asia and then to America–where it is now for the first time the subject of an exhibition. The man’script’s Armenian text comprises the accounts of Christ’s life attributed to Saints Matthew–Mark–Luke–and John–whose sacred–time honored texts were not subject to variation. it was through the miniatures that the creators of the Gladzor Gospels expressed the nuances of the Armenian understanding of scripture. In the miniature of the Marriage at Cana–for example–the painter T’oros of Taron included details that connect the biblical event with medieval Armenian ritual. The miniature shows the moment when Jesus has turned water into wine at the wedding feast. By portraying Christ holding a beaker of wine–suggesting what would later become the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist–Christ’s ability to change water to wine at Cana is linked to his power to transform wine and bread into his blood and body at the Eucharist. The miniature also depicts the bride and groom wearing crowns that were customary at medieval Armenian weddings.

In The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor–authors Thomas F. Mathews and Alice Taylor explore a particularly Armenian view of Christ’s life expressed in the man’script’s miniatures. They examine the scenes from Christ’s life thematically in order to highlight the concepts of Christ as Divine Physician–the Human and the Divine Christ–Christ and the Church–Women in the Life of Christ–the Christ and the Nations–and Christ in the Rites of the Armenian Church.

Artistic Influence of Other Cultures

Mathews and Taylor describe the intricate production of man’scripts in the Middle Ages–then focus closely on the Gladzor Gospels. The miniatures reveal the painter’s knowledge of and interest in the artistic traditions of neighboring cultures–both Christian and Islamic–but the style is unmistakably Armenian. The miniature of the Last Supper–for example–exemplifies the rich color treatment that is characteristic of 14th-century Armenian illuminations. Christ–clothed in brilliant blue and purple–sits at the head of a golden table. The architecture in the background is rendered in gold–blue–green–red–and orange–creating dazzling coloristic effect. The striking palette is found also on the man’script’s text page–the most sumptuous of which feature brightly colored decorated surrounds composed of architectural elemen’s–birds–and plants.

Related Publications

The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor is one in a suite of three related–richly illustrated books published this year by Getty Publications. Treasures from the Ark (Getty Publications–$60.00 hardcover)–by Vrej Nersessian–Curator of Armenian Collections at the British Library–surveys 1700 years of Armenian Christian art–offering readers a look at lavish works collected from around the world.

The Bible in the Armenian Tradition (Getty Publications–$29.95 hardcover)–also by Nersessian–traces the development of the Bible in Armenia–the first translations of which inspired the invention of the Armenian alphabet itself. About the Authors

Thomas F. Mathews is John Langeloth Loeb Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.

Alice Taylor is Professor of Arts and History and Chair of Humanities at West Los Angeles College and the author of Book Arts of Isfahan (Getty Publications–$19.95 hardcover).


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