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.

Wealth, Politics and Medieval Armenian Iconography: Hazel Antaramian Hofman to Speak on November 12 at the ZIC

Portrait of King Gagik-Abas, Queen Goranduxt, and Princess Marem.  Courtesy of Dickran Kouymjian, The Arts of Armenia (Accompanied by a Collection of 300 Slides in Color), Lisbon:  Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1992. Photograph Ara Güler, Image No. 69.
Portrait of King Gagik-Abas, Queen Goranduxt, and Princess Marem. Courtesy of Dickran Kouymjian, The Arts of Armenia (Accompanied by a Collection of 300 Slides in Color), Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1992. Photograph Ara Güler, Image No. 69.

Award-winning artist and scholar Hazel Antaramian Hofman will deliver an illustrated lecture entitled, “Dressing the Part: Textile Wealth in an Eleventh-Century Armenian Miniature and its Interpretive Meaning,” at the Zohrab Center on Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 7:00PM.

In 1911 a single manuscript  folio containing a damaged yet exquisite miniature painting was found in the print shop of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It was soon recognized as belonging to perhaps the most famous and important Armenian manuscript of the 11th century, a profusely-illuminated copy of the four Gospels commissioned by King Gagik-Abas of Kars, Jerusalem manuscript no. 2556.

The folio depicts a royal family portrait: King Gagik-Abas, his wife Queen Goranduxt and their daughter, the heir to the throne, Princess Mariam. This is the only known Armenian painting of a Bagratid dynastic family. Though partially defaced, some of the facial features excised, the painting, with its refined style and sumptuous detail, is well-known to art historians.

Artist-Scholar Hazel Antaramian Hofman will speak at the Zohrab Center on Tuesday, November 12 at 7PM.
Artist-Scholar Hazel Antaramian Hofman will speak at the Zohrab Center on Tuesday, November 12 at 7PM.

Hazel Antaramian Hofman asks why the family portrait was represented the way it was? Her analysis concludes that coded in the details of the painting, particularly in its composition and in the careful depiction of opulent textiles, one can read a great deal about the King, his political ambitions and the socio-economic situation of the Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia.

“The image was created during [a] tumultuous period in the history of the Bagratuni’s,” writes Antaramian-Hofman in her 150-page Master’s thesis on the eleventh-century miniature painting of the last Bagratuni dynastic family in Western Armenia. “The composition of the image and the opulence of the represented textiles convey dynastic affluence in an effort to support the central figure, the young daughter, within the socio-political context of medieval life in the region,” the artist-scholar concludes.

Antaramian-Hofman will present her findings and elaborate on her past research, where she integrated the iconographic dimension of the painting with the economic, cultural, and socio-political contact of the royal family and their hegemonic neighbors. She will also discuss her plans to expand her study on this rare Armenian painting for future publication.

Ms. Antaramian Hofman was born in Soviet Armenia and settled in the United States at age five. Her education has both artistic and scientific roots: before earning an M.A. degree in Art and Design from Fresno State University, she already held an associate degree in fashion design and illustration, an undergraduate degree in chemistry with a minor in biology; and am M.S. degree in environmental science. An accomplished artist, she has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions. Her latest creative and scholarly work has focused on the repatriation of Armenians to Soviet Armenia following World War II.

The lecture will take place at the Zohrab Center, Diocese of the Armenian Church, 630 Second Avenue, New York, NY. It is free and open to the public. A reception will follow. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at (212) 686-0710 or zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org.

The Tragedy of Human Trafficking in Armenia: Vahan Zanoyan to Speak on September 26

ImageVahan Zanoyan, author of A Place Far Away, will speak about the heart-breaking realities of human trafficking in Armenia at the Kavookjian Hall of the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern) on Thursday, September 26 at 7PM.

The book is a novel but the plot and all of the characters are based on true stories of forced prostitution and coercive adoption of children and teenagers that the author discovered in the course of years of research in Armenia. Mr. Zanoyan, who lives in California, is very active in business and charitable work in the homeland.

The program is being co-sponsored by the Zohrab Information Center and the Armenian Studies Program of the Eastern Diocese, as well as the Fund for Armenian Relief. The event is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.

Signed copies of the book will be available for sale. All proceeds will benefit organizations in Armenia and beyond devoted to protecting children and fighting against human trafficking.

CLICK HERE to download a flyer.