From a gospel book attributed to the illuminator Sargis; scribe unknown
Armenian; Probably from Siwnik, Noravank
Vellum, pigments, and gold; 12 1/2 x 9 3/8 in. (31.7 x 23.7 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.171.2)
The Armenian peoples on the eastern frontier of the Byzantine empire had recognized Christianity as their state religion by the early fourth century. In the fifth century, the Armenian alphabet was developed for the translation of religious texts. Here on the incipit (opening) page of the Fourth Gospel of the New Testament, images of birds have been arranged to form the Armenian letters. This single leaf, originally part of a complete gospel, was probably illuminated by the artist Sargis, who worked at the Monastery of Noravank' in Greater Armenia while the region was under Mongol control.
The format of the page is based on the Byzantine manuscript tradition, as are the floral patterns in the decoration. Unlike Byzantine illuminations, however, Sargis chose as his primary decoration the four symbols of the evangelists. Each appears alone in a large incipit letterthe angel for Matthew, the lion for Mark, the ox for Luke, and the eagle for John. The symbols are then repeated in the headpiece. On top, the angels flank a bust of Christ in Heaven enframed by a pair of peacocks; within its borders, two pairs of confronted lions and oxen flank a pair of eagles.