Four Gospels in Armenian

Date: 1434/35

Culture: Armenian

Medium: Tempera and gold on paper; stamped leather binding

Dimensions: Overall: 11 1/16 x 7 5/8 x 3 3/8 in. (28.1 x 19.4 x 8.5 cm)

Classification: Manuscripts and Illuminations

Credit Line: Purchase, Fletcher Fund, Hagop Kevorkian Fund Gift, in memory of Hagop Kevorkian, Tianaderrah Foundation, B.H. Breslauer Foundation, Aso O. Tavitian, Karen Bedrosian Richardson, Elizabeth Mugar Eveillard and Arax Simsarian Gifts and funds from various donors, 2010

Accession Number: 2010.108


Illuminated manuscripts are among the finest works of Armenian art, for the "Word" as recorded in the Bible has been the focus of veneration in the Armenian Church since its founding in the early fourth century. During the fifteenth century, in the region of Khizan, near Lake Van, Armenian artists developed a dramatic style to illuminate the narrative of the gospels. Among the greatest of those artists was Khach'atur of Khizan, the probable illuminator of this gospel. Following the Armenian tradition, eleven surviving narrative images of these gospels are grouped as a unit before the canon tables at the beginning of the text. The initial images of the Nativity of Christ and the Presentation in the Temple are vividly colored, while those that follow display dramatically posed figures against the plain ground of the paper. In the Nativity scene, Christ's future death is evoked by his shroudlike dress and the manger's rectangular red form, which suggests the porphyry slab on which, according to tradition, he was anointed for burial. Of the Evangelist portraits that marked the opening of the four gospels, those of Matthew and Luke survive.

In modern times, Arshile Gorky would identify the Khizan style as an influence on his development as an artist.