Ovsanna P. Keshishyan
Handwritten Bibles, created in Cilician Armenia, play a crucial role in the
artistic decoration of the Armenian-language Bible. Cilicia plays a paramount role
not only in the illustration of handwritten Armenian Bibles, but also, first of all, in
their first full edition, made by Catholicos Nerses Lambronatsi at the end of the
12th century (1153-1198).
Before the creation of the first Bible in the Armenian language that has
reached us (Bible from Yerznka, 1269, Jerusalem N 1925), the first full
replications of complete Bibles had already started in Cilicia, which, unfortunately,
have not been preserved.
The role of the activity of the school of Archbishop Hovhannes – the
brother of King Hetum I, formed in the second half of the 13th century, is
especially invaluable in the formation of the illustration system of handwritten
Bibles. In the manuscripts, created here in the 1260-70s (Matenadaran N N 4243,
345), the almost completely formed illustration system of Cilician Bibles can
already be seen, which becomes a basis for further biblical illustrations not only in
Cilicia, but also in Armenia itself. To a certain degree, they carry the influence of
the Byzantine book art.
The Latin influence increases in the period after the activities of
Archbishop Hovhannes. Among biblical manuscripts carrying this influence are
Bibles of 1295 (Matenadaran N 180) and N 179 of King Hetum II, copied by writer
Stepanos Goyneritsants, where chapter separation is carried out with both
Armenian and Franc numeration systems cuncurrently.
In the 14th century, the Cilician Bibles enter a new stage. The manuscript
style changes, leaning more towards the national, geometrically flat-figure
direction, at the same time, a new creative approach can be seen. Sargis Pitsak
plays a significant role in the creation of Cilician biblical miniatures of the period.
Among the manuscripts illustrated by him, interesting is the Bible N
1508/1 (Venice), where, among the decorations of Psalms and Genesis title pages,
we can see the busts of coronary king David and God-Father, rare here.
Another unique Cilician Bible is kept in Hermitage (VP-1011). In the first
part of Bible miniatures we can see Moses’s illustrations, and in the further parts –
Old Testament kings, the illustrations of whose majority appear for the first time.