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Indepth Arts News:

"The Outsider: Hakob and Armenian Illumination"
2006-04-26 until 2006-05-16
Sam Fogg
London, , UK United Kingdom

Following the success of the first selling exhibition of Armenian art staged by the gallery in 2004, Sam Fogg is delighted to present an exhibition of a major Armenian manuscript which will be accompanied by a groundbreaking publication. Entitled The Outsider: Hakob and Armenian Illumination, the exhibition will display the Gospels illuminated by Hakob Jughayets‘i, the most celebrated Armenian illuminator of the 16th century, at Sam Fogg, 15d Clifford Street, London W1, from Tuesday 25 April to Tuesday 16 May 2006. The manuscript once belonged to the celebrated collector and diplomat Jean Pozzi (1884-1967).

The Pozzi Gospels, completed by Hakob Jughayets‘i in the winter of 1586, includes an extraordinary series of portraits, narrative miniatures and marginal figures.  The manuscript contains narrative cycles drawn from the Old Testament and the Gospels, the evangelists and paired images of Christ and the Virgin. In the colophon, Hakob explains that he copied and illuminated the manuscript under the protection of a church in the city of Keghi (modern Kigi, fifty miles south-west of Erzerum).  At the time he was itinerant and, when passing through Erzerum on his way to Istanbul, Hakob records that he had met a priest, Astuatsatur, who invited him to travel back to Keghi.  With a humility born of convention as much as conviction, Hakob describes himself as ‘the most useless of the servants of God’ and the ‘false-living deacon of Jugha’.  He remarks that the book was completed at ‘a bitter time’, again a familiar expression found in many colophons.  In this instance, however, he could be referring to the war that raged between the Safavid and Ottoman empires across Armenia during the 1580s, or to his precarious personal circumstances and the harshness of winter. Hakob’s sparkling, vibrant palette, expressive wide-eyed figures, and iconographic inventiveness are at their most distinctive in this early phase of his career.

From antiquity, Armenian history can be seen in terms of periods of independence interleaved with longer spells under the dominion of neighbouring powers. Throughout these centuries, Armenian cultural traditions proved both resilient and distinctive.  If Armenia is one of the least understood regions of the Christian Orient, late medieval and early modern Armenia remains one of the least studied periods. Hakob’s illuminated manuscripts reveal that Armenian art cannot be explained simply as a fusion of artistic influences from its powerful neighbours and conquerors but needs to be recognised as a separate tradition and assessed on its own terms.

The study of this manuscript for this exhibition has resulted in a groundbreaking publication on Hakob’s life and career. Researched and written by Dr Timothy Greenwood and Dr Edda Vardanyan, and published by Paul Holberton, Hakob’s Gospels: The Life and Work of an Armenian Artist of the Sixteenth Century is the first monograph to trace Hakob’s development in Armenia in the 1580s to his later works in Safavid Persia, at Isfahan, in 1607 and 1610.  In the Pozzi Gospels, completed in 1586, Hakob is experimenting with subjects and styles.  Through comparison with Gospels dated 1585 and 1587, this Gospel book seems to mark an important moment of transition, when he moved away from the influence of his teacher, bishop Zak‘aria Gnuneants‘, and began to develop his own repertoire, drawing on images of the divine from the Far East and on western European traditions.

Using the nine manuscripts written and illuminated by Hakob, all of which include informative colophons, Dr Tim Greenwood and Dr Edda Vardanyan construct Hakob’s biography, explore his artistic development, and evaluate his career within the context of late 16th-century Armenian politics, culture and devotion.  Richly illustrated with reproductions of miniatures produced at every stage of his career, this study reveals the singular artistic vision of Hakob himself and the dynamism of contemporary Armenian illumination.

In addition to this splendid manuscript, the exhibition will also present a selection of Armenian manuscripts and bookbindings, woodcarvings and icons, dating from the 12th to the 18th centuries, all of which will be for sale.

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