"To Know Wisdom and Instruction": The Armenian Literary Tradition at the Library of Congress
Armenia in the Sixteenth Century
In the sixteenth century the Armenian homeland was fragmented because of warfare waged by surrounding powers who sought to control the area. “Turcici Imperii Descriptio” (Description of the Turkish Empire) from Abraham Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, one of the earliest published atlases, graphically demonstrates the fragmented condition of the Armenians and their homeland in the period immediately before Hakob Meghapart printed the first Armenian book. It provides the probable explanation of why that first publication occurred in the Diaspora rather than in the Armenian homeland.
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The Armenian States
Historic Armenia centered on the Armenian Plateau. The boundaries of the various Armenian states changed through the millennia, but the plateau remained the ancestral core of the Armenian people. This map schematizes and compares the borders of various Armenian states from antiquity to the present.
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This fragment of an embroidered ecclesiastical fabric appears to be from a garment or an altar cloth. The fabric is red silk velvet, while the threads used are metallic with a silk core. Some of the original colored glass beads remain. The Virgin Mary, crowned with a halo, holds the child Jesus on her knee and a scepter in her right hand. Jesus is holding an indistinct item in his left hand while he makes the sign of the cross with his right. The reading and translation of the inscription that runs along the bottom of the fabric is a matter for scholarly debate. One reads: "For [the Church of] St. Karapet [that is, St. John the Baptist, the Precursor]. It is a memorial of Manushik, Mesrop’s wife, and of the child Ghal in [the year] 1190 [AD 1741].” Another reads: “For [the Church of] St. Karapet. This is in memory of Manuk and Manushak, the wife of Mesrob, of Ghalajegh.”
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The Gospel of Mark, 1321
This Gospel Book is the earliest of the Armenian manuscripts in the Library of Congress collections. It is unadorned except for ornamental headpieces at the start of each Gospel and decorative devices in the margins, all in black and brown ink. Colophons (narrations left by the scribes who copied the work) throughout indicate the history of the manuscript. On display is the last page of the index and the opening page of the Gospel of Mark.
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The Verin Noravank‘ Gospels
The Library recently acquired this beautifully illuminated and historically important Gospel Book. The Verin Noravank‘ mentioned in the colophon as the place where it was copied has recently been identified with the ruins of Aratesi Vank‘ in the Republic of Armenia, a short distance from the more famous Noravank‘ Monastery. Armenian manuscripts routinely have lengthy colophons; this one contains one of the rare allusions to Yaqub, the leader of the Aq Qoyunlu (White Sheep Turcomans), who ruled much of the eastern parts of historic Armenia. The Evangelist Mark is depicted with the opening page of his Gospel. Relatively spare but typically Armenian marginal illustrations appear throughout the text.
A digital copy of the Verin Noravank‘ Gospel Book is available in PDF and Page Turner format on the Library’s website at http://lccn.loc.gov/2009436809.
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The Oskan Bible
This Book of Exodus is from the Bible known as the “Oskan” Bible after its editor, Oskan of Erevan, who founded an influential and important press in Amsterdam. The text, based on a single manuscript from the Cilician kingdom of Armenia, is the first complete printing of the Armenian version of the Old and New Testaments. The woodblock prints bear the initials V.S. for Christophe van Sichem and A.D. for Albrecht Dürer. The woodblock print on the left depicts Moses placed in the river by his mother. On the right, the fiery angel appears to Moses. The initials indicate that both illustrations were the work of van Sichem.
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Psalms of David in the Armenian Tradition
The Psalms of David have been extremely popular with the Armenian people ever since their conversion to Christianity in the early years of the fourth century. This manuscript of the Book of Psalms is undated but from the illustrations and its palaeography it appears to be a product of the seventeenth century. The illuminations are spare in comparison to many Armenian manuscripts with the exception of its distinctively Armenian decorative uncials (capital letters).
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Printed Book of Psalms
The large number of manuscript copies of the Book of Psalms yielded to publications early in the print era (after 1512). This commentary on the Psalms of the Prophet David by John of Constantinople bears an ornamental headpiece and marginal devices that are all identifiably Armenian while the sixteen principal engravings show strong Western influence. Although the Psalms are in classical Armenian (grabar), the commentary is in the vernacular, probably because the intended buyers no longer understood grabar.
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Isola San Lazzaro
In 1717 a young Armenian Catholic priest, Mkhit‘ar Sebastats‘i (Mkhitar of Sebastia [modern Sivas, Turkey], 1676–1749) founded a Benedictine Armenian Catholic monastery on the island of San Lazzaro in Venice. Mkhit‘ar wrote and published several works that became sources of inspiration and intellectual renewal throughout the centuries that followed. The monastery became a center for Armenian learning and publishing and remains so, together with its sister monastery in Vienna. The American artist Joseph Pennell (1857–1926), a well-known printmaker and illustrator, created this image of the island of San Lazzaro and its monastery.
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In 1733 Mkhit‘ar published a handsome Աստուածաշունչ (Bible) that was in essence the same text, with some editing, that Oskan of Yerevan had produced in 1666. The hand-colored prints were, however, new. This copy is open to the Գիրք առակաց (Book of Proverbs). According to the fifth-century historian Koriwn, the verse after the title, Ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրատ (To know wisdom and instruction) was the first phrase translated into Armenian after the monk Mesrop Mashtots‘ created the Armenian alphabet around 406.
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Mkhitar of Sebastia’s Dictionary
Shortly after Mkhitar’s death in 1749, one of his most influential works was published, the Dictionary of the Armenian Language. The result of decades of meticulous research and writing, this dictionary ushered in a new era of studies on the Armenian language and its grammar. The high level of its scholarship is demonstrated by the cartographic accuracy used in drawing this map titled “Universal Geography,” one of the many illustrations in the dictionary.
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Armenian Missal from Sebastia Region
The Library’s collection of Armenian manuscripts includes two missals (texts of the service of the liturgy), each copied in 1722 and each created for the use of the celebrant officiating at the altar. This manuscript of the missal from T‘akhtayghalēn is opened to the incipit (first) page and an image of the Crucifixion. The traditional decorative devices and palaeography (letter shapes) used in such manuscripts also adorn many of the early printed Armenian books.
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Armenian Missal Published in Venice
The Armenian Apostolic Church is autocephalic, that is, it has its own head and is separate from all other churches. However, this missal in Armenian was published for the use of the celebrant of the liturgy according to the Roman Catholic rite. Because it was published by the Armenian Catholic Mkhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro and was based on a Roman publication of 1677, the Crucifixion and all the other engravings and decorative devices are stylistically Western.
Խորհրդատետր սրբոյ Պատարագին ըստ արարողութեան Հայաստանեայց եկեղեցւոյ համեմատ օրինակին տպելոյ ի Հռովմ 1677 (The Divine Liturgy [Missal] in accordance with the service of the Armenian Church following the example published in Rome in 1677). Venice: San Lazzaro, 1823. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (011.00.00)
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Music of the Armenian Liturgy
The chants and melodies of the liturgy of the Armenian Church date from its earliest days. These were first transmitted through oral tradition and then by an Armenian system of musical notation called “khaz.” Using European musical notation, Malachia Yekmalian in the nineteenth century and Komitas Vardapet in the twentieth century transcribed and published the two versions of the liturgy commonly in use today. However, in 1877 the Mkhitarist fathers in Venice had published the first Europeanized transcription of the Armenian liturgy for four-part mixed choir by the composer, artist, teacher, and conductor Pietro Bianchini. These two pages are from a manuscript that Bianchini, the “Maestro of the Mkhitarist Congregation of San Lazzaro,” copied and dedicated to the unnamed Armenian Catholic Patriarch on his name day, December 26, 1887. The text to the music, set in five parts, is chanted by the celebrant at the beginning of the liturgy.
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In this 1712 published copy of a Sharaknots‘ (hymnal), the khaz (musical notations) appear clearly along with an engraving of the Armenian saint Hŗipsimē, whose death at the hands of King Tiridates III by tradition began the events that led to the Christianization of the land. The image of Saint Hŗipsimē is the only new engraving; the other images are from an earlier Sharaknots‘ that was published by Oskan Erevants‘i (Oskan of Yerevan) in Amsterdam.
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Music of the Liturgy
This excerpt from the Armenian Apostolic Church liturgy is “Surb, Surb,” the Trisagion (“Holy, Holy, Holy”)’, an ancient hymn chanted as part of the liturgy at worship services. It comes from an album originally recorded in 1970 in commemoration of the centenary of the birth of composer Komitas Vardapet (1869–1935), whose version of the liturgy is one of two in use today. Komitas Vardapet is highly regarded for his musicological studies and his collection, transcription, and arrangement of Armenian folk music. This recording, under the artistic direction of the pianist Sahan Arzruni, includes performers Maro Ajemian, Lucine Amara, Cathy Berberian, Lili Chookasian, Alan Hovhaness, and the Camerata Singers.
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Sharakans (literally “series of gems”) are the poetic hymns that are chanted in the Armenian Church. The musical canon dates from the earliest period of the Armenian Church and was most probably in place by the sixth century. It was not until the tenth century, however, that an Armenian system of musical notations called “khaz” seems to have developed. Composed by many of the renowned names in the Church’s history, such as the saints Grigor Narekats‘i (Gregory of Narek), Nersēs Lambronats‘i (Nerses of Lambron), and especially Nersēs Shnorahali (Nerses the Graceful), the composition of sharakans appears to have ceased after the thirteenth century. The Library’s Near East Section has recently acquired through donation this fourteenth- or fifteenth-century illuminated manuscript sharaknots‘, which is based on a fourteenth-century edition from the Cilician Kingdom of Armenia.
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Book of Hours
King David playing his lyre adorns this Armenian Book of Hours published in 1768. The volume has nine engravings coupled with marginal decorations, headpieces, and uncials (capital letters) that reflect Armenian manuscript tradition. The Book of Hours is one of the most widely published texts used by the Armenian Church because it contains the feast days, prayers, liturgical songs, and services appropriate for each hour of the day in the church calendar. It is also a repository for the literary works of some of the most renowned medieval Armenian authors, such as the liturgical songs of the twelfth-century Armenian Katholikos (head of the Armenian church), St. Nersēs Shnorhali (Nerses the Graceful).
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The Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith) was established by the Roman Catholic Church in the seventeenth century to defend itself against the effects of the Protestant Reformation, to communicate with the peoples of newly discovered lands, and to attempt a spiritual reconquest of lands lost to it in the past. Many of its publications dealt with the alphabet, language, and grammar of the peoples of these lands; the congregation often published dictionaries as well. The congregation’s Introduction to the Armenian Language was prepared by the Jesuit Monk Hakob Vardapet.
Hakob Vardapet. “Introductio ad Linguam Armeniam: De Alphabeto Armeniorum” (Introduction to the Armenian Language: About the Alphabet of the Armenians), from the Dictionarium Novum Latino-Armenium (New Armeno-Latin Dictionary). Rome: Sac[ra] Congreg[atio] de Propaganda Fide, 1714. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (016.00.00)
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Hmayils (phylacteries, or prayer scrolls) in the form of highly decorated and illuminated scrolls came into use in the seventeenth century. The manuscripts contained sermons, magical formulas, and prayers to avoid all kinds of dangers—especially to ward off dews (demons). Printed editions, such as this example, were devoted to prayers, Gospel readings, and sermons. The intricate engravings are hand colored. Designed for domestic use and for travel, the hmayil format remained in use until the eighteenth century. This example was extensively conserved by the Library of Congress and restored to its original state.
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Christianization of Armenia
The arrival of the relics of Surb Karapet (The Holy Precursor, John the Baptist) in Armenia figures prominently in the conversion narrative of the Armenians. The History of Taron purports to be a fourth-century history of the Christianization of Armenia, narrated in two parts. The first deals with St. John’s relics and their disposition. The second is concerned with events in and around the Monastery of St. John the Karapet in Mush (now in Turkey) and the heroic battles fought against invading Persian troops in the region. The work was probably composed between the tenth and twelfth centuries to give both legitimacy and primacy to the monastery, which claimed to have significant portions of the relics of St. John the Baptist. In this first publication of the history, St. Gregory the Illuminator, the bishop credited with the conversion of Greater Armenia and the first Katholikos (head of the Armenian Church), is pictured across from the beginning of the text and alongside decorative devices taken from established manuscript tradition.
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In the 1930s, the Library of Congress acquired calligraphy sheets taken from Armenian manuscripts, mostly from the seventeenth century. Among them are several large leaves from an illustrated Armenian synaxary, a work that presents the daily festival days of the saints. Although this illumination depicts St. George and the dragon (with the saint’s visage defaced), the text, taken from The History of Taron, says it is for “the Festival of St. John the Karapet, as established by St. Gregory.”
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Monastery of St. John the Precursor
The Monastery of St. John the Precursor in Taron (modern Mush, Turkey) became one of the most illustrious religious sites in Armenia. At the turn of the twentieth century, Malachia Ormanian, the renowned Katholikos (head) of the Armenian Church, maintained that it was one of the three most important places of pilgrimage for Armenians. The monastery was destroyed in 1915, and by modern accounts only eight feet of the walls are visible. This photograph shows the monastery as it once stood. Because the Armenian name Karapet (Precursor) has no exact translation into English, the photographer, echoing a practice used by other Armenian immigrants of the period, wrote the monastery's name as "St. Charles Monastery."
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Scholarship in Cilician Armenia
St. Nerses of Lambron, (1153/54–1198) was an accomplished scholar, theologian, and archbishop of Tarsus in the region of Cilicia (now in Turkey) where Armenians had crowded from historic Armenia. Nerses is recognized for his important theological writings and for his participation in various councils that strove for unity between the Armenian and Byzantine churches and later between the Armenian Church and the Church of Rome. He died in 1198 just before Levon II of the Armenian Rupenid Dynasty was crowned the first king of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia on January 6, 1199. This engraving of Nerses towering over his clerics is from his Commentary on the Twelve Holy Prophets.
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Armenian Church Fathers
Gregory of Narek (951–1003) was a monk, philosopher, and theologian who became a saint of the Armenian Church. His works have greatly influenced the liturgy, music, and literary life of the Armenian Church and people. Gregory’s literary compositions rank among the greatest and most popular Armenian poetry; his two most esteemed works, the Book of Prayers and Lamentations, were published in the relatively early years of Armenian printing and have gone through multiple editions. An image of Gregory appears in the opening pages of this 1763 edition of his renowned Book of Prayers.
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Commentary on St. Gregory’s Works
A rich manuscript tradition for St. Gregory of Narek’s prized works, his Book of Prayers and Lamentations, gave way to multiple publications; translations of his works and commentaries and scholarly studies about this prolific author abound. In the early days of printing in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Hakob, Archbishop and Patriarch of Constantinople (1702–1764), published a commentary on both of these classics. The work opens with a headpiece and marginal illustrations executed in Armenian manuscript tradition style. Below the portrait of the saint (on the right) and throughout the highly decorated first page of the commentary, the engraver has positioned scenes from Gregory’s life.
Hakob, Armenian Patriarch of Constaninople. Մեկնութիւն աղօթից եւ երբողինաց սրբոյն Գրիգորի Նարեկացւոյ հրեշտակական վարդապետ (Commentary on the Prayers and Lamentations of Grigor Narekats‘i Divine Vardapet). Constantinople: Norakazm Tparan, 1745. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (023.00.00)
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Translation of Cyril of Alexandria
Translations of biblical and religious texts began appearing almost immediately after the creation of the Armenian alphabet ca. 406. In the centuries that followed, many of the translations were the works of the holy fathers of the church, known as “Patristic” literature. A Cry to the Desirable One includes translations from Greek sources as well as original Armenian theological materials. On display is the opening of the translation of Յաղագս մարդանալոյ Միածնին (Concerning the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten) by St. Cyril of Alexandria, Patriarch of Alexandria (ca. 370–444).
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Translation of Eusebius’s Chronicle
Many types of ancient and mediaeval works were translated into Classical Armenian (grabar) soon after the Armenian alphabet was created. Modern scholars consider some surviving Armenian versions to be more complete and accurate than the extant originals. In this book, published in 1818 by the Mkhitarist congregation of San Lazzaro in Venice, the Armenian and extant Greek fragments of the Chronicle of the Greek church historian Eusebius (ca. 263–339) are printed in parallel columns with a Latin translation by the linguist Mkrtich‘ Vardapet Awgerian. The Armenian version, which exists in one manuscript, preserves additional fragments of classical authors who wrote before Eusebius’s time.
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Translation of Philo of Alexandria
Of the fifteen extant treatises by the influential Jewish philosopher Philo of Aexandria (20 BC–AD 50), eight exist only through their translations into Armenian. In addition to his work on Eusebius, Mkrtich‘ Awgerian edited and published Philo’s De providentia and De animalibus. The Armenian text and Awgerian’s Latin translation are displayed in parallel columns while the Greek original and notes appear on the bottom of each page.
Փիլոնի Եբրայեցւոյ Բանք երեք չեւ ի լոյս ընծայեալք Ա. Բ. Յաղագս նախախնամութեան Գ. Յաղագս կենդանեաց (Three unedited treatises of Philo Judaeus. 1. 2: De providentia, 3: De animalibus), translated into Latin and edited by Mkrtich‘ Vardapet Awgerian. Venice: San Lazzaro, 1822. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (026.00.00)
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Translations of Popular Fables
Translations into Armenian were not restricted to theological, religious, nor even historical sources. Armenians also enjoyed fables and philosophical sayings. This work is a translation from Latin done in 1614 by Hakob T‘ok‘atets‘i (James of Tokat). The Latin text itself was a Westernized version of the popular Eastern tale of Kalila and Dimna. The engraving on the left depicts the emperor in a scene from one of the fables; the incipit (first) page across from it is ornamented with recognizably Armenian illustrative devices.
Պատմութիւն կայսերն Փոնցիանոսի ե կնոջն եւ որդւոյ նորին Դիոկղետիանոսի եւ եօթինն իմաստասիրացն (The Tale of the Emperor Frontianus and of His Wife and His Son Diocletian and of the Seven Philosophers). Translated from Latin by Hakob T‘ok‘atets‘i (Hakob of Takat). Constantinople, 1740. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (027.00.00)
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History of the Armenians
The land that has been known as Armenia to the outside world was known to the Armenians as Hayots’ Ashkharh (the land of the Armenians) or simply “Hayk‘” in antiquity and “Hayastan” today. The mediaeval Armenian historian Moses of Khoren narrates the classic legend of the migration of the Armenians from Babylon into their new land led by the eponymous hero, Hayk, for whom the land was named. Hayk is pictured in the foreground of this page from the first volume of Michael Chamchian’s The History of Armenia, considered by many to be the first modern history of the country. Noah’s Ark on Mt. Ararat can be seen in the background.
Mik‘ayel Ch‘amch‘ian (Michael Chamchian). Պատմութիւն Հայոց: Ի սկզբանէ աշխարհի մինչեւ ցամ տեառն 1784 (The History of Armenia from the Beginning of the World until 1784). vol. 1. Venice: Tparan Petros Vaghvazeants, 1784. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (028.00.00)
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Armenian Translation of Ortelius
The earliest extant geographical study in Armenian was composed by the seventh-century scientist, mathematician, and geographer Anania Shirakats‘i (Anania of Shirak), whose Աշխարհացոյց (Geography) contains fragments from classical sources as well as his own observations. This manuscript, copied in 1618 by the seventeenth-century pedagogue, scholar, and publisher John of Ankara, provides his translation of the work of Abraham Ortelius, the sixteenth-century Flemish scholar and geographer. On the left is a small insert with a decorative device and the words Նոր Աշխարհացոյց (New Geography). On the title page John adds that he translated the work in Ankara in 1067 of the Armenian era, or AD 1618.
Hohannēs Ankiwrats‘i (John of Ankara).Նոր Աշխարհացոյց արարաեալ Աբրահամ Օրդէլիոսի Անդիվէբիացւոյ. Սպանիացւոց Փիլիպպոսի Արքայի երկրաչափէն (New Geography by Abraham Ortelius of Antwerp from the Measurements of the Spanish King Phillip). Manuscript copied by John of Ankara in 1618. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (029.00.00)
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Armenian Geographical Work
Less than a century after John of Ankara’s translation of the work of Abraham Ortelius, Ghukas Vardapet Inchichian of the Mkhitarist Order in Venice published a multi-volumed geography. This illustration of the interior of Hagia Sophia is in the section on the Ottoman Empire, published in 1804.
“The interior of Hagia Sophia from the door looking towards the main altar” from: Europe, part two, vol. five, of Աշխարհագրութիւն Չորից մասանց աշխարհի. Ասիոյ. Եւրոպիոյ. Ափրիկոյ. Եւ Ամերիկայ (Geography of the Four Parts of the World: Asia, Europe, Africa, and America). Venice: San Lazzaro, 1804. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (030.00.00)
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Armenian Maps of America and Asia
The Mkhitarist fathers of San Lazzaro published maps as well as geographical studies, either separately or as parts of atlases and geographical narratives. These two late-eighteenth century maps show Asia and the the New World, America.
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Elia Endasian. Ասիա ըստ նոր աշխարհագրական զննութեանց փոռագրեալ ի Վենետիկ ի Վանս Սրբոյն Ղազարու ի թուիս մերում 1236 (Asia According to New Geographical Observations, printed in Venice at the Monastery of San Lazzaro in 1236 of our era [AD 1787]). Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (031.00.00)
Elia Endasian. Ամերիկա ըստ նոր աշխարհագրական զննութեանց փոռագրեալ ի Վենետիկ ի Վանս Սրբոյն Ղազարու ի թուիս մերում 1236 (America According to New Geographical Observations, printed in Venice at the Monastery of San Lazzaro in 1236 of our era, [AD 1787]). Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (032.00.00)
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Beginning in the eighteenth century, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire who spoke Turkish but could not read Ottoman script began to publish materials in Turkish using Armenian script. Publication of these Armeno-Turkish (Հայատառ Տուրկերեն) works lasted until the mid-twentieth century and occurred not only in the Ottoman Empire, but also throughout the Diaspora. Although the Library’s collection of Armeno-Turkish material overwhelmingly consists of religious subjects, many secular publications exist as well. The Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), for instance, is depicted here in Joseph Vardanian’s two-volume biography.
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Armenian Printing in Russia
An Armenian community existed in Russia well before it conquered the Caucasus in 1828. Although an Armenian press had existed in St. Petersburg since 1780, it appears that it was not until 1819 that a press opened in Moscow. These engravings of a pheasant (սիրամարգ) and an ostrich (ջալայն) are from The Flower of Knowledge. Published for use in Armenian schools, this first Armenian book published in Moscow presents and discusses various sciences and fields of knowledge. Fifty-two blue-toned engravings appear throughout the text.
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The Mkhitarist presses of both Venice and Vienna produced books and pamphlets about secular topics as well as religious ones. The Italian Giovanni Aldini (1762–1834) wrote several works in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries concerning fires and ways to avoid injury while fighting them. This pamphlet appears to be a translation culled from Aldini’s various writings. On the left is a hand-colored engraving of the clothing and objects needed to avoid injury. The title on the right reads, “Brief Information to Avoid Injury in a Fire, Written by the Cavalier Aldini, Which Could be Important for Stampolts‘is [the inhabitants of Istanbul].”
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Armenians in France
This volume is an Armenian translation by Nersēs Khosrov Tatian from materials in English provided by the Manchester Cotton Supply Association. Tatian states in his introduction that “Everyone knows that cotton is in agriculture one of the most important and productive parts, whose cultivation is more developed in America” so that “there is almost a monopoly in America.” Tatian explains that he is translating this work so that the Armenians in his homeland might benefit from the information he has provided and thereby improve their lot and the agricultural productivity of their lands. The book was published in Paris shortly before the American Civil War, during which France, in large measure because of the cotton trade, leaned toward the Confederate cause.
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Armenians in Jerusalem
Mosaics and inscriptions have confirmed the presence of Armenians in Jerusalem since the fourth century AD. By the seventh century an Armenian archbishop, recognized later as the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, was installed in the city. The Patriarch, custodian of the Armenian possessions in the Holy Land, resides in and is abbot of the ancient Monastery of St. James. A press was established there in 1833 to produce liturgical and religious texts.
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Interior of the Beautiful Armenian Church, Jerusalem, Palestine. North Bennington, VT: H.C. White, 1901. Stereograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (038.00.00)
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Armenian Pilgrimage to Jerusalem
Going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem was especially meaningful to Armenians. Armenian monasteries and sites crowded the area, and Armenians were in possession of a significant portion of the Old City. This history of Jerusalem and its holy sites opens with an engraving depicting the Holy City, the Tabernacle carried by the Israelites during the Exodus, and Jesus with the apostles. The legend underneath reads “Jerusalem, wondrous city, sealed by the hand of our Lord Savior.”
Գիրք պատմութեան սրբոյ եւ մեծի քաղաքիս աստուծոյ Երուսաղէմիս, եւ սրբոց տնօրիննայ տեղեաց Տեառն մերոյ Յիսուսի Քրիստոսի (History of the Great and Holy City of Jerusalem and of the Holy Places of Our Lord Jesus Christ). Constantinople: Tparan Hōhannisi ew Pōghosi, 1782. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (039.00.00)
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Praise for Jerusalem
This volume is a short compilation of odes and poems in praise of Jerusalem. At the top of the design surrounding the title are King David playing his lyre and Noah’s Ark on the summit of Mt. Ararat. At the bottom, St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew, who by tradition first spread Christianity to the Armenians, are pictured on either side of the Lamb of God.
Տետրակ Գովասանաց ի վերայ տնօրինական սուրբ ուխտատեղեաց որք են յաստուածահրաշ քաղաքն սուրբ Երուսաղէմ (Praise for All the Holy Sites of Pilgrimage which are in the Divine City of Holy Jerusalem). Jerusalem: St. James Monastery, 1858. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (040.00.00)
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Armenians in Iran
In 1603–1604 Abas I, the Safavid Shah of Iran, forcibly transferred the Armenian population of Old Julfa and areas on the northern border between the Ottoman Empire and Turkey to New Julfa, Iran. Armenians soon established themselves as an economic force in their new land and established presses. The first book published in Iran was, in fact, a 1636 Armenian psalter published in New Julfa. This work by Harut‘iwn T‘. Hovhaneants‘ provides invaluable details concerning this important chapter in the history of the Armenian Diaspora.
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Armenians in India
Armenian presence in India grew historically and culturally important beginning in the eighteenth century, when Armenians from the commercial center of New Julfa and Isfahan, Iran, emigrated there. Presses established both in Madras and Calcutta served the community that thrived until the mid-nineteenth century and had all but disappeared by the turn of the twentieth century. Volume II of Thomas Khojamalian’s two-volume History of India opens with a discussion on “When and How Europeans began to arrive in India.”
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Following the publication of the first Armenian newspaper, Azdarar (Monitor) in Madras, India, in 1795, a variety of social, political, and literary newspapers were produced throughout the Diaspora and in Ottoman and Russian Armenia. Among these, Mshak (Cultivator, Tiller), published by Grigor Artsruni in Tbilisi/Tiflis, was significant because of its Western orientation and lofty ideals. Shown is the front page of the first issue, January 1872.
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The Armenian Alphabet
Armenian, an Indo-European language, was unwritten before the fifth century AD. After Christianity was proclaimed as the official religion in the early fourth century, the churches had to use Greek and Syrian religious works. Almost a century later, Sahak the Great, the Katholikos (head) of the Armenian Church, and Vramshapuh, the Arsacid king, jointly ordered the monk Mesrop Mashtots‘ to devise an Armenian alphabet. The alphabet that Mesrop Mashtots‘ created around 406 consisted of thirty-six letters. The letters Օ (ō) and Ֆ (f ) were added in mediaeval times, raising the number of letters to thirty-eight. The alphabet and its forms are featured in this 1856 textbook published by the Armenian community of St. Petersburg, Russia.
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Church Calendars from the Armenian Diaspora
In Armenia and many of the places throughout the Diaspora where the Armenians settled, daily church diaries Օրացոյց (Orats‘oys‘), either plain or illustrated, were published; these provided day-to-day religious readings, feast days, and services of the Armenian Church. These examples include calendars from Constantinople (Istanbul) Theodosia (Ukraine), St. Petersburg, Yerevan, and Tiflis/Tbilisi, which is open to the beginning of November1873. Simple and common, these calendars nonetheless are invaluable records for tracing the Armenian Diaspora.
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Composed in the fourteenth century, the Book of Adam is a poem by Aṛak ‘el Siwnets‘i (Arakel of Siwnik), scholar and abbot of the renowned monastery of Tat‘ew. The poem contrasts Old Testament Adam with the new Adam, Jesus Christ. The Library’s manuscript was copied in the churches of Surb Astuatsatsin (the Holy Mother of God) and Surb Kaṛasunk ‘ (the Holy Forty) in Aleppo in 1102 of the Armenian era (AD 1653). This is the opening page of the Book of Adam, with its relatively simple headpiece (the ornamental design at the beginning of the text).
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This ode eulogizes St. Vardan Mamikonian, the hereditary sparapet (grand marshal) of the Armenian forces, who died at the Battle of Avarayr in 451 while fighting Persian forces sent to convert the now-Christian Armenians to Zoroastrianism. Vardan’s exploits form the core of Egishē Vardapet’s influential mediaeval history, Վասն Վարդանայ եւ Հայոց պատերազմին (Concerning Vardan and the Armenian War).
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Throughout the twentieth century, poetry was a literary mode for Armenians to express their longing, deepest thoughts, political views, loves, and patriotism following the loss of their ancestral homeland. One of the chief poets of this period was Vahan Tekeyan, born in Constantinople in 1878. He emigrated to Egypt in 1914 after the Hamadian Massacres of 1894–1896 and died in Cairo in 1945. One of the founders of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (Ramkavar Azatakan Kusakts‘ut‘iwn), he is today known for his lyric poetry, especially for his sonnets. This collection displays Tekeyan’s literary range as he addresses religious, profane, and nationalistic themes.
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Early Soviet Poetry
Eghishe Charents‘ (1897–1937) approached the same set of conditions as Tekeyan in a stylistically different manner. Born in Kars in Russian Armenia, he reacted to the dismal situation of his compatriots by becoming a soldier and then joining the Bolshevik Party. His poetry, cerebral and clean, reflects his thoughts and experiences. He became slowly disillusioned with Stalin and the communist state and was executed in 1937 during the Stalinist purges. His collection of poetry Epic Dawn reflects how deeply affected Charents‘ was by what he had seen and endured.
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Manuscript Bequeathed by Rouben Mamoulian
The Library of Congress recently inherited the papers of the renowned Armenian-American stage and film director Rouben Mamoulian (1897–1987), known for stage and screen classics such as George and Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, the Greta Garbo film Queen Christina, and the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals Oklahoma and Carousel. The bequest included this eighteenth-century Armenian manuscript that is sumptuously decorated with illuminations and marginal devices that show the influence of Armenian manuscript traditions even as they seem remarkably Western in execution. St. John is pictured holding the chalice with the dove of the Holy Spirit rising from it. The text of the work begins on the left with an ornate headpiece and decorative devices that clearly reflect both Armenian and Western artistic influences.
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Even after the introduction of printing, Armenian manuscripts on a variety of subjects continued to be abundantly copied and produced. The Library of Congress has several fine examples of nineteenth-century Armenian manuscripts. This one is open to the end of the index and the colophon (narration left by the scribe who copied the work) of the Armenian Book of Canons (the laws of the Church), copied by the scribe Hakob Gēorgian of Amasia in 1801.
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First Modern Armenian Novel
The 1848 publication of the novel Armenia’s Wounds by Khachatur Abovyan (1809–1848) is considered the beginning of modern Armenian literature. In a significant break with the literary past, Abovyan wrote in the Armenian language as spoken in his time instead of the Classical dialect (grabar). Novelists after Abovyan composed their works in modern Eastern and Western Armenian, depicting Armenian life, politics, and culture. Their efforts continue to influence new generations of Armenian authors both in the Republic and the Diaspora. This edition of Abovyan’s novel is a testament to the high quality of graphic arts in Soviet-era publications.
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This headpiece and text, which signals the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, is from an awetaran (Gospel Book) that was copied on September 17, 1816, and donated to the church of St. Nikoghayos (St. Nicholas). Although the exact provenance is not known, based on style and the existence of a church of St. Nicholas in Constantinople (Istanbul) the manuscript probably was copied there. The text of the Gospels is complete but the illuminations are not, and the evangelists are not pictured with their respective Gospels. The manuscript has been trimmed and is water damaged yet still witnesses to its onetime beauty.
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This manuscript is a defense of palmistry (the telling of fortunes based on lines and patterns in the palm) by Awetis Varzhapet (Master) Perperian of Constantinople and copied in 1894 in Constantinople. Perperian explains on his title page that he has culled and translated the work from Greek sources.
“Concerning natural palmistry and the nature of and reasons for the lines in hands,” from Ձեռնազննութիւն բնական (Natural Palmistry). Manuscript compiled and copied by Awetis Varzhapet (Master) Pērpērean (Perperian) in Constantinople in 1894. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (058.00.00)
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The nineteenth century witnessed the appearance throughout the Armenian world of scholarly and literary Armenian periodicals and journals, some of which are still being published. Of particular and lasting importance is the Ազգագրական Հանդէս (Ethnographic Journal), which began in 1895 in Shushi, then a part of the Russian Transcaucasian Republic. Until it ceased publication in 1909, the journal published articles about the various regions and tribes of the Caucasus as well as explorations of antiquities, clothing, and the life and culture of those peoples. The photograph “Armenian Miss from Akhalkalak” is from an extensive article on the region of Javakhk/Javakheti, now in the Republic of Georgia.
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Armenians in the United States
Although there are records of Armenians in the New World dating back to 1617, the era of the Jamestown Colony, immigration to the United States began in earnest in the late nineteenth century and increased following the Hamidian Massacres of 1894–1896 and those of 1915. Many Armenians who arrived during this period settled in the Northeast, especially near Boston. Although proud of their ancestry, they began immediately to adapt to their new home, founding compatriot organizations with fellow Armenians and establishing presses to publish in their native language. Throughout the Diaspora, Armenians frequently produced almanacs and yearbooks that included events, biographical information, society and literary news, and advertisements on behalf of the businesses they opened. This 1913 cover of The Armenian American Yearbook combines symbols from their ancestral country with the symbol par excellence of their new homeland, the flag of the United States.
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Yerevan during the First Republic of Armenia
The modern city of Yerevan dates its origins to the founding of the Urartean fortress of Erebuni in 782 BC. It has been inhabited continuously ever since, and its citizens delight in pointing out that their city is older than Rome. Yerevan, however, remained a relatively small city until after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the early nineteenth century. It later became the capital of the short-lived First Armenian Republic, the first independent state of Armenia since the fall of the Cilician Kingdom of Armenia in AD 1375. The country was created on May 28, 1918, out of the chaos that followed the end of World War I, and lasted until late November–early December 1920. This large-scale map of Yerevan was probably published by the government of the Democratic Republic of Armenia before the Bolshevik takeover.
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Beloved Armenian Poem, Anush
Born in Eastern Armenia, the poet Hovhannes T‘oumanyan (1869–1923) was steeped in the rich oral traditions of Armenian village life, and his poetry and literary works reflect the complex society and mores of the Armenian people. One of his most beloved poems, Anush, was written in 1890 but not published until 1892. The tragic story of the love between Anush, a young village girl, and, Saro, reflects T‘oumanyan’s keen understanding of the intricate moral and ethical code of village life. This illustration of Anush and the villagers is from the Soviet Armenian edition of Anush.
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From Print to Song
The Armenian composer Armen Tigranyan (1879–1950) was born in Alexandropol (modern Gyumri) in the region of Eastern Armenia that was then part of the Russian Empire. He was educated in Tiflis/Tbilisi, Georgia, and entered its musical conservatory in 1887. He was moved to write an opera based on Hovhannēs T‘oumanyan’s poem Anush soon after he first read it. He began his work in 1904 and completed it in 1908. The opera now known and loved by Armenians in the Republic and throughout the Diaspora underwent several revisions before reaching its present shape. Deeply imbued with the folk traditions of Armenian music, its score is nonetheless thoroughly original. This piano-vocal score is opened to the duet between Anush and her lover Saro in act IV.
Armen Tigranyan. Duet from act IV from Անուշ: օպերա 5 գործողությամբ 7 պատկերով: ըստ Հոհվ. Թումանյանի համանուն պոեմի (Anush: An Opera in 5 acts and 7 Scenes from a Poem of the Same Name by Hovhannes T‘umanyan). Yerevan: Haypethrat, 1954. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (063.00.00)
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Excerpt from the Opera Anush
This standard recording of Armen Tigranyan’s operatic version of Hovhannes T‘umanyan's beloved poem Anush, published in 1892, was made in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.), one of the fifteen federated republics of the Soviet Union, in 1952. It stars the legendary soprano Gohar Gasparyan as Anush and the chorus and orchestra of the Armenian State Theatre of Opera and Ballet of the Armenian S.S.R.
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Armenian National Epic
David of Sasun, the Armenian folk epic, existed solely in oral form until portions of it were published in the nineteenth century. The task of reconstructing this grand epic, which only partially concerns David, fell to scholars in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.) as they sought to weave a unified and coherent work from the various oral threads. In the evocative illustration of this Soviet-era publication, David is depicted brandishing his lightning sword, mounted on his steed, Dzhalali.
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Copied and published by modern Armenian scholars, petroglyphs (depictions drawn and carved on stone) from the fifth millennium BC yield a wealth of information about domestication of animals, hunting practices, rituals, and animal life in the region of ancient Armenia. In this petroglyph a man is driving his cart.
Հայաստանի հնագիտական հուշարձանները 4: ժայռապատկերներ: Գ.Հ. Կարախանյան, Պ.Գ. Սաֆյան, Սյունիքի Ժայռապատկերները Petroglyph from G. H. Karakhanyan and P. G. Safyan, The Petroglyphs of Syunik‘. Armenia’s Archaeological Monuments, vol. 4: Petroglyphs. Fascicle 1. Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1970. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (066.00.00)
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Scholarship in the Soviet Era
Armenia is littered with inscriptions from the Hittite and Urartean periods, as well as with Aramaic boundary stones and Greek and Latin inscriptions from the later ancient periods. After the creation of the Armenian alphabet in the first decade of the fifth century, inscriptions began to appear in Armenian, often on stone crosses (khach‘k‘ars), church walls, fabrics, and silverware. This Soviet-era book records facsimiles and transcriptions of inscriptions from the Church of the Apostles in Ani, the fabled capital of the Mediaeval Armenian Bagratid Kingdom, known also as the “city of 1,000 churches.”
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Satire in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic
Publications in the Armenian S.S.R. were not restricted to scholarly or literary subjects. As in the other areas throughout the Soviet Union, satire, though officially sanctioned by the government, was widely appreciated. The satiric journal Ozni was published in Yerevan by the daily newspaper Soviet Armenia. This colorful cover of the March 1957 issue shows at top a factory assembly line for tractors with the legend: “The quality of the renovation of tractors according to official reports.” Below the picture of a farmer driving a dilapidated tractor, the text reads “and in actuality.”
Ոզնի (Ozni), March 1957. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (083.00.00)
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Memories of Home
After Armenians began emigrating from the Ottoman Empire in large numbers during the last half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, they held on to the memories of their native cities and villages. They published numerous memorial books about their homeland, such as this example created by Armenians from Kharberd (Kharpert, modern Harput in Turkey). These photographs of Kharberd show master carpenters (left) and master stonemasons (right).
Vahē Hayk. Խարբերդ եւ անոր ոսկեղէն դաշտը. Յուշամատեան ազգային—պատմական—մշակութային եւ ազգագրական (Kharberd and her Golden Plain: Memorial And National Historical Industrial and Ethnological Memorial Book). New York: Kharberd Armenian Patriotic Union, 1959. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (068.00.00)
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Advances in Armenian Studies
During the twentieth century the scholarly discipline of Armenian Studies developed in both the Second and Third Republics of Armenia and throughout the Armenian Diaspora. Up-to-date publications about Armenian history, literature, religion, science, art, architecture, and other fields now exist in languages accessible to non-Armenian specialists who need these materials to further their own research. The Album of Armenian Paleography, which contains discussions of the alphabet, facsimiles of pages from manuscripts with complete descriptions of the paleography in each, and tables of letter shapes with dating at the end gives provides researchers the tools they need to date Armenian manuscripts from the shape of the letters. The manuscript reproduced in this publication was copied in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia in 1287–1288 and is now housed in the Matenadaran, an ancient manuscript repository in Yerevan, Armenia.
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Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union on September 21, 1991, Armenia became the first of the fifteen federated states to declare its independence. Periodicals, newspapers, and journals heralded the newfound freedom while literature, poetry, and religious works (long forbidden in Soviet Armenia), once more began to appear in print. Currently the presses are actively publishing a variety of high-quality materials. This painting shows the Mkhitarists receiving English poet Lord Byron (1788–1824) at their monastery on the island of San Lazzaro, where he studied Armenian. It appears in a trilingual exploration of the life and works of the eighteenth-century Armenian painter Hovhannes (Ivan) Ayvazovski (1817–1900), who is renowned for his seascapes as well as his Armenian-themed paintings.
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Galata Tower, Istanbul
In the last years of the nineteenth century the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II (reigned 1876–1909) presented large-format albums of photographs of the Ottoman Empire to both the American and the British governments. Three Armenian brothers known collectively as the Abullah Frères—official court photographers since the 1860s—were commissioned by the sultan to demonstrate through their photography both the modernity and the historical richness of his empire. This photograph shows the Galata Tower, built in 1348 in Constantinople (now Istanbul).
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Historic Island of Akhtamar
This photograph, one of a series taken by Vartan Hampikian in the early twentieth century, shows the island of Akhtamar in Lake Van, on which the Artsruni noble house, rulers of the medieval Kingdom of Vaspurakan (late ninth–early eleventh century), built their palaces, as well as the renowned and historically important tenth-century Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross, depicted here.
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Silver Christening Bowl
Armenian craftsmen in the Ottoman Empire were known for producing exquisite, inscribed metallic objects, especially those made from silver. This nineteenth-century silver christening bowl with the raised relief of the Lamb of God is from Mezreh in Kharpert (Harput, Turkey). There are two inscriptions. The first, from 1863, states that the bowl was a gift to M from G who in turn gave it to Y. Hek‘imn. The later inscription indicates that Y [Hek‘im?] gave the bowl to Kh, Hek‘ime[a]n in 1901.
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Armenian Needle Lace
This long piece of lace from Mezreh in Kharberd, probably meant to be used as the border for a table cloth or similar fabric, exemplifies the intricate technique known as “Armenian Needle Lace.”
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