EDITORIAL: AYF London visits “Armenia: Masterpieces from an Enduring Culture”

On Sunday 21st February AYF London visited the Bodleian Library exhibition entitled “Armenia: Masterpieces from an Enduring Culture”. The exhibition is open until the end of February and is a landmark event for those with an interest in Armenian history, or those who appreciate the art.

 

The group received a tour from Professor Theo Van Lint, the Calouste Gulbenkian Professor of Armenian Studies at Oxford University. The University’s interest with Armenia was first noted 400 years ago when various Armenian texts entered the Library via Archbishop Laud. Professor Lint established a basic history of the Armenians before placing the artefacts on display in the context of this history. Professor Lint has a brilliant wealth of knowledge on the artefacts and their contemporary and historical paths; he allowed the group to understand the intricacy and brilliance of the exhibition.

This article will not attempt to explain or convey the exhibition in full detail, doing so would not do justice to the magnificence of the full experience.  I recommend all to go see it while it is still on, and for those unable to, there is a book of the exhibition released titled “Armenia. Masterpieces from an Enduring Culture Oxford: Bodleian Library University of Oxford 2015 (Eds. Theo Maarten van Lint & Robin Meyer)”.

I would like to focus on two specific manuscripts that caught my attention which highlight both the masterpiece and enduring element of Armenian culture.

The first is a copy of John Chrysostom’s “Commentary of the Epistle to the Ephesians” in an Armenian manuscript. The work is noted as the oldest Armenian manuscript the Bodleian library has dating from the 10th or 11th century. It is difficult to describe the manuscript in words but what stood out to me was the calligraphy of the work. The calligraphy was not excessively-extravagant with unnecessary embellishment but instead was quite plain, yet amazing due to the perfect nature of the handwriting. Every letter was so perfectly written that at first sight the work seems typed and printed. Every single letter across the pages is done in the exact same style and with the same dimensions leading one to believe that the creator of the manuscript must have had extensive experience in the art, and been extremely skilled in Armenian calligraphy to produce a manuscript which seems typed when one does not inspect the piece closer.

The second manuscript that was particularly intriguing was a copy of the Bible from Julfa (on the Arax), the piece was titled “And on the Seventh Day God Rested”. This manuscript by Yakob Julayec’i’s draws Christian religious images in a surprisingly oriental way, a demonstration that Yakob had an understanding and perhaps had experienced Eastern cultures. The professor pointed out that the manuscript’s drawing of God was reminiscent of Buddhist art and perceptions of Buddha. Though he suggested the Iranian landmass as a means for spread of Eastern cultural influences as an explanation for this, one could infer that Yakob had perhaps experienced Buddhist religion and adopted some of their beliefs and designs into his own understanding of God. Alternatively, he may have just had an appreciation for Oriental cultures, either way it is evident that the creator was rather open-minded; a trait which one could argue is rather rare in ancient religious manuscripts.

My descriptions of the manuscripts are very limited and I urge all to attend the exhibition. This small snippet of the exhibition was just one detail among many that stood out to me demonstrating the beauty and intricacy of Armenian art and culture. Though manuscripts may be an art of the past, we are blessed to have so many manuscripts brilliantly preserved to the present day to remind us of the richness of Ancient cultures in this case the Armenian culture which still produces works of such beauty, though in different forms, today.

— Vahe Boghosian

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