Spreading the Word

Armenian Gospelbook

Armenian Gospelbook
Armenian Gospelbook
Baltimore, Walters Art Museum
MS. W.537, f.2
Ink and pigments on parchment; ff. 237; 305 x 250mm
Gospels; Armenian
Armenia; 966 C.E.

This is the oldest Armenian manuscript in an American collection and the fifth-oldest Armenian gospelbook in the world. Its colophon records that it was commissioned by a priest, “with all his family, for the adornment and glory of the holy church.” The patron’s name is unknown, but his scribe and fellow priest, who was called Sargis, added that he “wrote this holy Gospels in the year 415 of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Formerly, the codex was known as “The Gospels of the Translators,” because it was thought that its colophon date referred to the time of the first translation of the gospels into Armenian from Syriac, made in the early fifth century C.E. In fact, the date refers to the year 415 of the Armenian era (966 C.E.). Despite this confusion, the text remains a significant witness to both the first Armenian translation of the gospels and the earliest revision following the Council of Ephesus in 431. The angular uncial script in which Sargis wrote, called erakat’agir, or “iron-forged letters,” was in use between the fifth and thirteenth centuries C.E.

Shown here is a miniature of the Virgin and Child; on ff. 114-115 are the portraits of the Evangelists Mark and Luke. They are clad in liturgical vestments, perhaps in response to the priestly occupations of the book’s patron and its scribe. Indeed, Sargis the scribe might also have been the painter. The pairing of evangelist portraits between the gospel texts is rare: usually a single portrait appears before each gospel. This format, the preference for geometric design over figural modeling, and the largely earth-tone palette provide rare insight into early indigenous Armenian illumination.
RAL (author bios)

Nersessian, 1978, pp. 1-5; Alexanian, 1990-91; Mathews and Wieck, 1994, cat. no. 6; Nersessian, 2001, p. 224.

« Spreading the Word