These jeweled, enameled, and gilt-silver repoussé covers for a gospel are examples of the work produced in the late seventeenth-century Armenian silversmith workshop of Kayseri. Both front and back cover are signed, informing us that they were made in Kayseri in 1691 by Astuatsatur Shahamir. The central image on the front cover depicts the Adoration of the Shepherds, and above, the magi following the star. Amid angels, the banner in the sky proclaims, "Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace." The same composition of shepherds appears on two sets of gospel covers made in Kayseri by M. Karapet Malkhas, one dated 1671 (Mekhitarist Library, Vienna, MS 416) and the other dated 1691 (present location unknown). On the back is the Resurrection, showing Christ in a mandorla holding a bannered cross, surrounded by baroque cherubs and clouds. The green velvet spine is decorated with six garnets and numerous glass or crystal gems arranged in a diamond pattern. These covers were attached to a gospel copied and illuminated by a thirteenth-century scribe named Grigor, possibly from Cilicia.
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Title:Armenian Gospel with Silver Cover
Date:manuscript: 13th century; cover: dated 1691
Geography:Made in present-day Turkey [Cover], Kayseri. Made in present-day Turkey [Manuscript], probably Cilicia
Medium:Manuscript: ink and tempera on parchment Cover: gilded silver repoussé, with colored enamels, jewels, and imitation gems
Dimensions:Pages: H. 10 in. (25.4 cm) W. 6 3/4 in. (17.1 cm) Binding: H. 10 1/4 in. (26 cm) W. 7 3/8 in. (18.7 cm) Approx. opening with cradle: H. 10 1/4 in. (26 cm) W. 13 3/4 in. (34.9 cm) D. 8 in. (20.3 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Mrs. Edward S. Harkness, 1916
Gospel Book with Enameled and Jeweled Silver Plaques
This Gospel manuscript was copied by the scribe Grigor the priest (k'ahanay), probably in Cilicia in the thirteenth century. In the seventeenth century, the manuscript was further embellished with silver repoussé plaques produced by the silversmith Astuatsatur Shahamir in a workshop in Kayseri, as indicated by the inscriptions, which read: on the front, top, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace"; on the front, bottom, "This Gospel was made through his honestly earned assets to pray and praise our Savior, Jesus Christ"; and on the back, bottom, "And I, unworthy Astuatsatur Shahamir, decorated this with silver in the year of the Armenians 1140 [AD 1691] in the city of Kayseri, with God's help." These objects are particularly luxurious examples of silverwork from this workshop; they are adorned with colored enamels and precious and semiprecious jewels, such as garnets, emeralds, pearls,and turquoise, as well as some imitation jewels. The front plaque depicts the Nativity with the Adoration of the Shepherds surrounded by a jeweled grapevine border with a green enamel background. The same Nativity scene also appears on other plaques made in this workshop. The back cover utilizes the same border as the front, but the central scene is the Resurrection, directly inspired by Christoffel Van Sichem's woodcut printed in the Oskan Bible, the first complete Bible printed in the Armenian language in 1666 (fig. 79; see cat. 138 in this volume). Hundreds of Van Sichem's woodcuts were reproduced in other Dutch-language printed books, such as the Dutch Bible from Antwerp produced in 1646 (New Testament) and 1657 (Old testament) (cat. 139 in this volume). By the mid-seventeenth century, the Dutch publisher probably felt he had already saturated the market with these images and sold the woodcuts to the Surb Etchmiadzin and Surb Sargis Zoravar Press in Amsterdam, which printed the Oskan Bible. These woodblocks were used for decades by the press and its successors. The silversmiths clearly had acquired a copy of a printed book with Van Sichem' woodcut, most likely a copy of the Oskan Bible. At least twelve biblical scenes or decorative motifs found on their book covers were inspired by Van Sichem's woodcuts. These woodcuts and other prints helped to disseminate Western European iconography in the Near East in many different types of media, including silverwork, manuscript illumination, and wall paintings, as far as Iran.
Sylvie L. Merian in [Evans 2018], pp. 243–44.
1. Sylvie L. Merian and Helen C. Evans in Thomas F. Mathews and Roger S. Wieck, eds. Treasures in Heaven: Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts. Exh. cat. Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, and Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. New York: Pierpont Morgan Library; Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 183, no. 50, figs. 79, 133. See also American Art Association 1913, pt. 2, no. 497, and pt. 1, frontispiece.
2. British Library, London (Ms Or. 13808, silver dated 1691; formerly in the collection of Baroness Lanna, Prague); Mekhitarist Congegration, Vienna (Cod. 416, silver dated 1691); Matenadaran, Yerevan (MS 10411; silver dated 1704); and three undated plaques: Matenadaran (MS 10369); Université de Lille III, Bibliothèque, Fonds Agache-Desmedt (MS 222); and formerly in the collection of Haroutune Hazarian, New York (MS 80). None of these include enamel or jewels. See Sylvie L. Merian. "The Armenian Silversmiths of Kesaria/Kayseri in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries." In Armenian Kesaria/Kayseri and Cappadocia, edited by Richard G. Hovannisian, pp. 117–85. UCLA Armenian History and Culture Series, Historic Armenian Cities and Provinces12. Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda Publishers, 2013, table I.
3. It is also possible that the woodcuts were sold by his estate after Peter Jacopsz Paets, the printer, died about 1657; see John A. Lane. The Diaspora of Armenian Printing, 1512–2012. [In English and Armenian.] Exh. cat. Special Collections, University of Amsterdam, and National Library of Armenia, Yerevan; 2012–13. Amsterdam: Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam, with the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia, 2012, p. 87.
4. Meridian 2013 (see reference in note 2), table 2. Eleven woodcuts are listed in table 2 and the Last Supper should be added as the twelfth, as it was the inspiration for the Last Supper in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum's gold pyx (cat 111 in this volume).
Inscription: Inscribed in Armenian: - Manuscript: (7v) dedicated by the scribe, Grigor; (95r, 114r) colophons of the scribe Grigor; (301r) colophon by the owner, Baron Paron
- Cover: front, top: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace front, bottom: This Gospel was made through his honestly earned assets to pray and praise our Savior, Jesus Christ back, bottom: And I, unworthy Astuatsatur Shahamir, decorated this with silver in the year of the Armenians 1140 [AD 1691] in the city of Kayseri, with God's help
(Cover translations by Sylvie L. Merian: Armenia! exhibition cat., 2018, p. 243)
M. C. D. Borden, New York (until d. 1912; his collection sale, American Art Association, New York, February 17–19, 1913, lot 497, to W.W. Seaman for Harkness); Mrs. Edward S. Harkness, New York (1913–16; gifted to MMA)
New York. Morgan Library & Museum. "Treasures in Heaven, Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts," May 4, 1994–August 7, 1994, no. 50.
Baltimore. Walters Art Museum. "Treasures in Heaven, Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts," August 28, 1994–October 23, 1994, no. 50.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Armenia!," September 21, 2018–January 13, 2019, cat. no.112.
Evans, Helen C., ed. Armenia : Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, cat. 112A, B, pp. 43–44, ill.
Illustrated Catalogue of the Valuable Library Formed by the Late M.C.D. Borden, Esq., Febr. 17–19, 1913. New York, 1913. , New York, February 17–19, 1913, ill. pt. 2, no. 497, and pt. 1, frontispiece.
Mathews, Thomas F., and Roger Wieck. "Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts." In Treasures in Heaven. Princeton, NJ: Morgan Library & Museum, 1994. no. 50, p. 183, ill. figs. 79, 133.
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