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The Getty Museum Presents Masterpiece of 14th-Century Armenian Illumination, on Loan from UCLA

The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor
September 11-December 2, 2001

May 9, 2001

Los Angeles--Commemorating the 1700th anniversary of the establishment of the Armenian Church, the oldest church in Christendom, the J. Paul Getty Museum presents an exhibition devoted to a rare Gospel book from the destroyed Armenian monastery at Gladzor. This masterpiece of 14th-century Armenian illumination, on loan from the Department of Special Collections of the Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA, offers a rare opportunity for visitors to see more than 60 unbound pages of the Gladzor Gospels, famous for its brilliantly colored miniatures illustrating the life of Christ. The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor opens September 11 and continues through December 2, 2001. The exhibition also features related objects that establish the context for the Gladzor Gospels' illumination.

"The Gladzor Gospels marks one of the high points of medieval Armenian illumination," says Thomas Kren, the Getty Museum's curator of manuscripts, who co-organized the exhibition with Alice Taylor of West Los Angeles College. "We are excited that our visitors will be able to experience the book's illumination much as the 14th-century monks of Gladzor did, lingering over individual pages and the beauty of their miniatures." On loan from the UCLA Library especially for the Getty exhibition, the Gladzor Gospels can be shown so fully because its leaves have been removed from the binding for conservation reasons.

Deborah Gribbon, director of the Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, says, "Thanks to the generosity of the Young Research Library at UCLA, our partner in the Getty's exhibition and companion publication, our visitors will better understand the Armenian tradition of manuscript illumination and the strength of local collections in Armenian material, particularly at UCLA." This is the Getty Museum's second collaboration with the UCLA Library's Department of Special Collections, the first being the popular 1991 exhibition A Thousand Years of the Bible.

Exhibition Focuses on the Life of Christ

The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor introduces the manuscript's illuminators, explains the process of making the book, and explores its place within Western European, Byzantine, and Islamic artistic traditions. The exhibition focuses on the particularly Armenian view of Christ's life expressed in the manuscript's miniatures. Scenes from the life of Christ are arranged thematically in order to highlight the concepts of Christ and the Church, the Church and the Nations, the Human and Divine in Christ, Christ as Divine Physician, and Christ in the Rites of the Armenian Church.

The Gladzor Gospels was begun around 1300, almost exactly one thousand years after the Christianization of Armenia (in 301). Two illuminators contributed to the ambitious decorative program, but then work was suspended until shortly before 1307, when T'oros of Taron and two collaborators supplied more miniatures. In 1377, the Gladzor Gospels came into the possession of an Armenian princess who treasured it and wrote a prayer in it. Over the course of the following centuries, the manuscript traveled across Asia and then to America, where it is now for the first time the subject of an exhibition.

The manuscript's Armenian text comprises the accounts of the life of Christ attributed to Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Centuries old at the time the Gladzor Gospels was made, this text was considered to be divinely inspired and certainly not subject to variation. It was through the miniatures that the creators of the Gladzor Gospels expressed the nuances of the Armenian understanding of the words of scripture contained in the book. In The Marriage at Cana, for example, the illuminator T'oros of Taron included details that connect the biblical event with medieval Armenian ritual. The miniature shows the moment after Jesus has turned water into wine at the wedding feast. Christ holds a beaker of wine, suggesting a link to the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist. This points to a relationship between Christ's ability to change water to wine and his power to transform wine and bread into his blood and body at the Eucharist. Perhaps even more striking are the crowns worn by the bridal couple, which reflect medieval Armenian wedding practice.

Artistic Influence of Other Cultures

The miniatures of the Gladzor Gospels reveal the painters' knowledge of and interest in the artistic traditions of neighboring cultures, both Christian and Islamic, but the painting style is unmistakably Armenian. The miniature of the Last Supper exemplifies the rich color treatment that is characteristic of 14th-century Armenian illumination. Christ, clothed in brilliant blue and purple, sits at the head of a golden table. The architecture in the background is rendered in gold, blue, green, red, and orange, creating a dazzling coloristic effect. This striking palette is found also on the manuscript's text pages, the most sumptuous of which feature brightly colored decorative surrounds composed of architectural elements, birds, and plants.

Publications and Events

Coinciding with the Getty exhibition is the publication of The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor: The Life of Christ Illuminated by Thomas F. Mathews and Alice Taylor, which features full-color reproductions of all the miniatures displayed in the exhibition and a lively essay on the manuscript and its illumination. The monograph is one in a suite of three related, richly illustrated books published this year by the Getty Museum, including Treasures from the Ark: 1700 Years of Armenian Christian Art and The Bible in the Armenian Tradition, both by Vrej Nersessian. Treasures from the Ark catalogues a major exhibition this spring at the British Library, where Nersessian serves as curator of collections of the Christian Orient.

The Getty also plans a series of related public programs including lectures, gallery talks, and concerts. A free, all-day "Family Festival" on Saturday, October 20, will feature children's art-making workshops and live music, dance, and storytelling performances by local Armenian artists (produced by Community Arts Resources). These programs complement Armenian community events scheduled locally and nationally throughout this 1700th anniversary year, including Modern Icon: Contemporary Artists Influenced by the Illuminated Manuscripts, an exhibition at the Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale, California, September 15-October 20, 2001.

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The Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles, was founded in 1946 to house the UCLA Library's rare and unique materials. The Department's collections have evolved to focus on the humanities and social sciences, supported by the circulating holdings of the Young Research Library. Special Collections serves many UCLA academic programs and departments by building comprehensive collections to support their teaching and research needs. Departmental collections supporting Near Eastern Studies include approximately 15,000 manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish primarily in the fields of literature, philology, theology, law, and history, and ranging in date from the 11th through the 19th centuries. The strength of these holdings is due in large part to the library of the late Dr. Caro Owen Minasian of Isfahan, Iran, a significant addition to the Special Collections in 1967, making UCLA's the largest Armenian manuscript holdings in the United States.

About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.