The Ornithomorphic System of Marginal Illuminations of Armenian Gospel Books from the Polish National Library in Warsaw

  • Karolina Wiśniewska (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Ornitomorficzne miniatury marginesowe ormiańskich Ewangeliarzy przechowywanych w Bibliotece Narodowej w Warszawie / Ornithomorphic marginal miniatures of the Armenian Gospels from the Polish National Library in Warsaw. The text analyzes the functions of the ornithomorphic system of marginal illuminations of three Armenian Gospel Books from the Polish National Library in Warsaw: the so called Skevra Gospel (III 8101, 1198, 1199), the Gospel from Zamość (I 12670, 1603) and the Gospel from Lviv (III 12677, 1639). The elaborate and variously depicted birds on the pages of the Gospels serve as an example of the longue durée of ornithomorphic motifs in the Armenian art of illumination and its special role within the illuminated Gospels.

In the Skevra Gospel, the birds in the margins are depicted with great accuracy and in a naturalistic style whereas in the Gospel books from the 17th century they are rather conventional and decorative motifs. In both cases however, they serve as a good example of the evocative function of marginal miniatures. The semantic significance of the bird figure was exploited by the miniaturists, who by executing marginal images simultaneously built a visual narrative parallel to the sacred text. Thus, the marginal ornithomorphic decoration functions as notices which are to be activated by the intellectual participation of the reader. Furthermore, they establish a visual and semantic framework for the text that determines its interpretation.