Armenian Bible

Ms. 3290 - Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna (Bologna, Italy)

Alternate Titles:

Bibbia Armenia, Vangeli Armeni, Die Armenische Bibel

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Alternate Titles

Bibbia Armenia
Vangeli Armeni
Die Armenische Bibel

Extent / Format

614 pages / 11.6 x 8.5 cm

16th century



26 full-page miniatures

Former owners

Patriarch Abraham Petros I Ardzivian
Pope Benedict XIV

Short description

This Bible manuscript is one of the few examples of Armenian illumination to have survived to the present. The manuscript probably originated ca. 1614 in the vicinity of Edessa in Mesopotamia. Its 614 pages present the Gospels in a two-column structure illustrated by 26 full-page miniatures as well as splendidly decorated bordures. With their liveliness and golden details, the depictions shine as they have since day one. Even if the name of its patron remains hidden, it was once in the possession of Patriarch Abraham Bedros I Ardzivian (1679-1749), who gave it to Pope Benedict XIV (1675-1758) on the occasion of his 1742 consecration in Rome.

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Facsimile editions available


The Armenian Bible

A wonderful parchment manuscript with the text of the Gospels originated in the vicinity of Edessa at the beginning of the 17th century. 26 full-page miniatures enrich the biblical text, which is arranged in two columns. Upon first glimpsing the luminous paintings, one can hardly believe that they are already centuries old. Actually, this Armenian illumination is one of the only examples to have survived to the present. In fact, the patron of the manuscript is unknown, but some conclusions can be drawn about its previous owners. In the year 1742, Patriarch Abraham Bedros I Ardzivian (1679-1749) gave it to Pope Benedict XIV (1675-1758) on the occasion of his consecration in Rome.

Luminous Miniatures

The miniatures, designed according to the rules of Armenian illumination, distinguish themselves through their particular luminosity and fineness. It is astonishing how radiant the colors are and the intensity boasted by the gold backgrounds. As such, there is a six-figure Adoration scene playing out before unpretentious urban architecture and in whose background shines the golden heavens. Nevertheless, the bordure decorations boast rich gold as well and small marginal scenes illustrate the text additionally. The beginning of each Gospel is designed in an exceptionally splendid manner, as exhibited with a full-page miniature of the corresponding Evangelist.

Dating: an Open Question

Unfortunately, the question of the year of origin of the Armenian Bible cannot be answered with certainty. Nevertheless, on the first page there is a note indicating that the manuscript originated in Mesopotamia in the year 1614, it is nonetheless missing a colophon as a precious means for dating. An additional clue was found by researchers at the end of the Gospel of John, where a date is entered. Since its tint is different from what the rest of the text was written in, this notation is suspect and not suitable for the determination of a date of origin.

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