The seventeenth century in the Armenian communities in Constantinople, the Crimea, and Isfahan saw a renaissance in the art of manuscript illumination.For the first time wealthy Armenians ordered Bibles extensively illuminated with images inspired by earlier Armenian manuscript traditions and European printed books.' According to the principal colophon, this Bible was commissioned in Constantinople by Khodja Nazar (or Nazar Agha), a member of an important family in Isfahan, and completed in 1623; the copyist was named Hakob. During the fighting in the early seventeenth century between Iran and the Turks, Shah 'Abbas I ( 1589-1629) relocated to Iran and the Turks, in 1603, a portion of the Eastern Armenian population.The Armenians were settled in a quarter of Isfahan that they called New Julfa, in memory of their native city.Elaborate manuscripts like this were commissioned from the more established Armenian scriptoria in Constantinople.When the Bibles arrived in New Julfa, they quickly became models for other works, such as the similarly illuminated New Julfa Bible of 1645 now owned by the Armenian Patriarchate Jerusalem.
This Bible consists of 609 folios, 30 miniatures, illuminated canon tables and headpieces, and numerous illuminated ornaments.The text, in Armenian, is in two columns of forty-seven lines each, written in minuscule script called bolorgir.The title of each book of the Bible appears in the lower margin of the page below an elaborate headpiece.The frontispiece to the Old Testament depicts the six days of the Creation (in six medallions) and the Creation of Man, Eve Taken from Adam's Rib, the Warning concerning the Forbidden Fruit, the Temptation of the Serpent, and the Expulsion from Eden.The headpiece of the Book of Genesis on the facing page refers to the Apocalypse, with the Lamb of God flanked by seraphim. Below, Christ Pantokrator appears in the central medallion.The rays emanating from His hands enclose the Holy Spirit in a medallion to the lower left and Moses in a medallion to the lower right, before descending upon twelve haloed heads on each side, which probably represent the twenty-four elders of the Apocalypse.The initial letter of the chapter is formed by a man with a halo grasping a child to his breast with his left arm. In his raised right hand he holds а gilded book upon which a haloed eagle perches, the symbol of John the Evangelist. The outer margin is decorated with intertwined palms crowned by a cross. The remaining miniatures in this Bible represent Old Testament figures, the Evangelists, and other New Testament saints. Numerous decorative compositions confer great richness on this manuscript, a characteristic example of the works executed in Constantinople in the seventeenth century.
Only the Best: Masterpieces of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon
By Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.)