Precious Paper Trail Leads from ZIC to Constantinople to Holland and Beyond…

Armenian art historian Dr. Sylvie Merian examines woodcut prints in an 18th century Armenian hymnal from the Zohrab Center's collection of rare books.
Armenian art historian Dr. Sylvie Merian examines woodcut prints in an 18th century Armenian hymnal (Sharagnots) from the Zohrab Center’s collection of rare books.

The Zohrab Center has seen a good deal of noted Armenian art historian Dr. Sylvie Merian in recent weeks. In preparation for an academic conference paper, the scholar has been paging through some of the Zohrab Center’s most precious rare books.

She tenderly turns the pages searching for woodcut illustrations printed in Armenian religious books, most of them printed in Constantinople. “There’s another one!” she calls out, pointing to an intricate, full-page illustration featuring biblical images and saints with remarkably detailed facial expressions.

The woodcuts that were produced by Armenian artists in Constantinople are exceptional because many of the compositions for these illustrations were actually closely modeled after western European prints, especially Dutch. The ever-cosmopolitan Armenian artisans became familiar with the designs through the many books printed in Latin, various European languages, and Armenian, which contained them as illustrations. Many such printed books found their way to Armenian communities in Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Iran in the 17th to 18th centuries.

SylvieMerian2Dr. Merian has discovered dozens of Dutch-inspired Armenian woodcut illustrations in the ZIC’s rare book collection. Often she can even identify the Dutch artist whose work lies in the background of the Armenian print.

But the illustrations inspired more than just woodcut artists. Armenian silversmiths from Kayseri adapted the European designs as imagery for silver plaques used on religious books. Similar images in Armenian manuscript illuminations—which continued to be produced up to the early 19th century in the Near East—and even wall paintings in churches of New Julfa (an Armenian suburb of Isfahan, Iran) are abiding proof of the Armenians’ fascination with the European styles and their openness to adopt and adapt them. In this way, new Christian iconography and decorative motifs were disseminated in various media throughout the region—

—as the Zohrab Center’s remarkable early book collection demonstrates.

Sylvie Merian is Reader Services Librarian at at The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. She received her PhD in Armenian Studies from Columbia University’s Department of Middle East Languages and Cultures, writing her dissertation on Armenian bookbinding. She has published and lectured internationally on Armenian codicology, bookbinding, and manuscript illumination, as well as on the history of the book.

Dr. Merian will present an illustrated lecture on her woodcut research at the Zohrab Information Center on Wednesday, April 9 at 7:00PM.

Treasures from the ZIC: Childhood Marks of Future Renown

Occasional posts spotlighting extraordinary items from the Zohrab Information Center’s holdings and collections.

Պատմութիւն Երուսաղէմի History of Jerusalem by Dikran Savalaniants, published in Jerusalem in 1931.
Պատմութիւն Երուսաղէմի History of Jerusalem by Dikran Savalaniants, published in Jerusalem in 1931.

There are always plenty of books, journals, newspapers and other materials waiting to be sorted through and catalogued in the Zohrab Information Center. The work can be tedious but we stumble upon treasures every day.

While rummaging through a back room recently, I happened upon a hefty, beautifully leather-bound book that caught my eye. Entitled Պատմութիւն Երուսաղէմի [History of Jerusalem], it was written in Classical Armenian by a certain Dikran Savalaniants, translated into Modern Armenian by Bishop Mesrob Nshanian, and published by the Saints James Press of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1931.

Paging through the nearly 1400-page work, I discovered a very serious study of the ancient Armenian presence in Jerusalem, packed with detailed documentation concerning Armenian property holdings, and Armenian relations with the changing overlords of Jerusalem across the ages. The book even includes a register of Armenian inscriptions found all over Jerusalem and the Holy Land, dating back to the first millennium.

So gathering dust on a low-lying shelf was a world-class historical study in a language unknown to historians, authored by an obscure intellectual, translated by a forgotten Armenian bishop in a dusty third-world monastery. A precious inheritance in search of its rightful heirs.

Avedis Manoogian’s

Thumbing back to the title page I found a message handwritten by a past owner of the book. Scrawled in a young child’s clumsy script in bright red ink in the upper right corner I read: Աւետիս Մանուկեան [Avedis Manoogian]. On the very next page, as if to remove anyone’s doubt as to the owner of the precious book, the boy had inscribed again: Աւետիս Մանուկեանի. Երուսաղէմ. Ժառ. վարժ. [Avedis Manoogian’s. Jerusalem. Seminary.]

Who was this precocious, young seminarian? None other than the future Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, whose baptismal name was Avedis. Born in 1919, Manoogian would have been barely 12 years old when Savalaniants’ landmark book was published just footsteps from the Seminary classroom where the future Archbishop would have recently arrived. Just 8 years later, at the tender age of 20, Manoogian would be ordained a priest and abegha [monk] of the Armenian Patriarchate, being renamed Torkom after his teacher, the great Patriarch Torkom Koushagian.

The tender seeds of greatness are all around us.

Archbishop Manoogian passed away in late 2012 following a long and distinguished ministry as pastor and later Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, and capped by his tenure as Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. A memorial service and celebratory tribute for the Patriarch will be held at St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York on Sunday, February 9, 2013. All are warmly invited to attend. For further information and promotional materials visit the website of the Eastern Diocese.

–Fr. Daniel Findikyan