The British Library's 1700th Anniversary exhibit

Armenian International Magazine (AIM) Vol. 12, Issue 2, March 2001, pp 18-19


The British Library's extensive exhibit dedicated to the 1700th anniversary of Armenian Christianity

By Hratch Tchilingirian

Ten years in the making, the British Library in London is staging a large-scale and first of its kind exhibit, called "Treasures from the Ark: 1700 Years of Armenian Christian Art," that will be on displace from March 2 until May 28.

Head of exhibitions at the Library Allen Sterenberg says, "This is one of the most ambitious projects the Library has ever taken -- with such large number of objects from so many countries. The exhibit is designed to locate the visitor in Armenia."

"Treasures from the Ark" is also one of the most expensive projects the Library has organized. The £300,000 (over $450,000) cost of the exhibit is fully funded by the London-based Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Charitable Foundation.

The over 150 items in the exhibit -- which includes khachkars (cross stones), illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, gilt silver bindings, reliquaries, wood carvings, textiles and ceramics -- have been brought together from institutions and museums in 20 countries, but largely from Armenia. A 10th century gospel with ivory covers from the Matenadaran in Yerevan and a 15th century khachkar from Sevan are among the items being shown for the first time outside Armenia. A projecting lion head sculpture from the pagan Temple of Garni in Armenia, which has ended up at the British Museum, and only recently discovered, will also be on display for the first time. Also for the first time a complete Armenian Bible manuscript, King Hetum's illuminated Bible dated 1269, and a 10th century manuscript from the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem will be on display.

"This exhibition will bear witness to a clear originality and a tenacious attachment to old traditions along with an equally significant ability to absorb and regenerate models coming from the outside world," explained Father Nerses Nersessian, head of Collections of the Christian Orient at the British Library and curator of the exhibit.

The British Library is one of the "Big Five" holders of Armenian manuscripts, with close to 100 manuscripts, many of them donated by Lord Curzon in 1917. Some 60 manuscripts have been added to the collection since 1975 when Nersessian became curator of the Oriental collection.

The beginning of the Armenian book collection at the Library goes back to 1836, when the Mekhitarist Fathers in Venice sent an unsolicited Armenian Dictionary to the Library. Impressed by the publication, the curators decided to acquire Armenian books. Today, it has one of the riches collections of 17th and 18th century Armenian printed books.

Hratch Tchilingirian
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