Nelson-Atkins Acquires Armenian Masterwork "London Book of Gospels"

2015.27.14_The_Second_Coming_email.jpgKansas City, MO. Nov. 15, 2016-A manuscript internationally recognized as one of the greatest Armenian illuminated manuscripts by artist Mesrop of Xizan has been acquired by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City through the generosity of late donor Lee Lyon. The acquisition of the London Book of Gospels allows the Nelson-Atkins to present, for the first time, a magnificently illustrated 17th-century Armenian Christian manuscript. The London Book of Gospels is an important cultural and historical document that provides valuable insight into the religious beliefs and related artistic practices of Armenian communities in West Asia.

“This single gift transforms the collection of the Nelson-Atkins with its luxuriousness and its scholarship,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “It allows us to create a new focus on manuscript painting, Armenian culture, and greatly enriches our presentation of important works from around the world. We are deeply grateful to Lee Lyon for his generosity.”

Several pages of the manuscript will be on view through February 27, 2017 in the Treasury, the area in the Nelson-Atkins behind Rozzelle Court in which  works of ancient and medieval art are displayed.

Mesrop of Xizan is recognized as one of the greatest painters of his generation, and visitors to the museum will be experience the intimate impact of his paintings, which combine bold colors and inventive and powerful imagery to illustrate the stories of the Gospels. 

The manuscript was commissioned for the Church of the Holy Mother of God in New Julfa, Isfahan by 1618, which was destroyed by fire centuries later, making it a rare primary source documenting the lives and activities of Armenians living in Isfahan in the age of Shah Abbas I.

“This amazing manuscript creates connections to other artworks across the collection that demonstrate related religious themes and imagery,” said Kimberly Masteller, Jeanne McCray Beals Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art. “It also fills an important niche that allows the Nelson-Atkins to more fully present the history of medieval, Armenian and West Asian art, and also represents manuscripts as a major art form. The paintings in this manuscript are striking. They carry on early Christian imagery, combined with Persian elements and personal inventions.”

Image: Mesrop of Xizan, painter and scribe, and Yovhannes, scribe, The Second Coming from The Four Gospels, New Julfa, Isfahan, Iran, Armenian culture, 1618-1622, Oriental paper, ink, egg tempera, wax, and gold paint, 8 1/2 × 6 1/2 × 2 1/2 inches (21.59 × 16.51 × 6.35 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of Lee Lyon in Memory of Joanne Lyon, 2015.27.14.

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