Often items from The John Rylands Library are loaned to other institutions for exhibition purposes. In these instances, before the items are delivered to the borrowing institution, we digitise them in their entirety. This can be anything from a single image of say a painting or photograph, or a complete item. Recently the team have digitised two beautiful Armenian manuscripts from our collections before they are transported to an upcoming exhibition at The Bodleian Library in Oxford.
The two manuscripts in question are Armenian MS 3, The Romance of Alexander, dating from 1544, And MS 20, a Gospel Book from 1587. Both manuscripts are highly illuminated, with an incredible amount of colour and gold leaf throughout. Before any items leave the Rylands, our Collection Care team provide a comprehensive report, and painstakingly go over every page to consolidate any loose pigments. See the teams post over on the Special Collections blog here.
Armenian MS 3, The Romance of Alexander is a collection of stories chronicling the ‘mythical exploits’ of Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC). The Manuscript contains incredible illuminations of all manner of fantastic creatures and beasts, in a very distinctive style and colour palette.
The image above of folio 108r show Alexander meeting two such beasts, bird like creatures with the faces of men. The very distinctive text is known as ‘Bolorgir script’. The colophon in red tells us that Zak’ariay Episkopos was the writer and illuminator of this manuscript, and that it was copied in the Armenian era 993 in Sulu Manastir (the “Watery Monastery” near Samatya Kapisi) during the reign of Sultan Suleyman, also known as Suleiman the Magnificent.
MS 20 is a copy of the Book of Four Gospels, copied and illuminated in New Julfa (in Isfahan, Iran) in 1587 by the Deacon Hakob Jughayetsi. The Manuscript contains again lavishly illuminated pages, in a very unique style. In Riches of the Rylands, Vrej N. Nersessian writes of the above pages 7v – 8r of the manuscript: “…depict God resting on the 7th day and paradise. Nothing could be farther from the traditional iconographic type than to see God represented in a strange but powerful figure which defies an customary representation, whether Armenian, Christian East, or Western art. God the creator with the face of Buddha is pointing at the heads of Evangelists’ symbols with the legend below ‘This is the 7th day, resting from all works which God performed. It is our duty to work until Sunday, and rest on Sunday.'” (Riches of the Rylands UoM Press 2015, p165)
As with all items we photograph, the greatest care possible is taken during the process. Both manuscripts are very different, but still require the same attention to detail and preservation. The image above of photographer Gwen Riley Jones, shows one of the cradles we use in our digitisation studio. The cradle is custom built specifically for this type of fragile item, and supports the spine completely without opening the item too far. We shoot with Phase One IQ180 medium digital format backs, ensuring we have the highest detail possible.
Both manuscripts will be transported to the Bodleian Library in Oxford in October, and will be live for everyone to view, in their entirety via our online image collections LUNA soon. In the meantime, there are a few details and pages from these and other Rylands Armenian manuscripts here.