The Cilician School of Miniature

The Cilician School of Miniature

Armenian miniature and book art reached the peak of their development in Cilicia in the 13th century. The Cilician school was formed in the 12th century and existed until the 1480s.

During this period, talented artists like Grigor Mlitsi, Kostandin, Vardan, Kirakos, Hovhannes, Toros Roslin, Grigor Pitsak, Sargis Pitsak, and Hovhannes Arkayeghbayr worked in the writing houses of Drazark, Skevra, Akna, Grner, and Bardzraberd.

The oldest manuscripts of this school are mainly from Drazark. From the second half of the 12th century, one of the centers of the Cilician miniature school has been Skevra, where the basic principles of miniatures have been formed. Names of three miniaturists from Skevra are known – Vardan, Kostandin, and Grigor Mlichetsi.

The well-known manuscript “Book of Lamentations” of Narekatsi was illustrated by Mlichetsi in 1173. In 1193, Mlichetsi illustrated the Lvov Gospel (in the Armenian tradition – the “Gospel of Skevra”). In the latter work, the new characteristic features of the Cilician Armenian miniature are more tangible.

This school experienced a decline in the first half of the 13th century but was revived after the reign of King Hethum I.

The beginning of the development of writing houses in Hromkla dates to the 1160s century. The oldest illustrated manuscript from Hromkla is a 1166 Gospel. The city of Hromkla became the center of the development of the Cilician school of miniature in the second half of the 13th century.

This development was closely related to the activities of Catholicos Constantine I Bardzraberdtsi. The first master of this school was Kirakos. Most of the Hromkla manuscripts (including those authored by Toros Roslin) were commissioned by the Cilician Catholicos.

Along with Kirakos, another master of miniature of the 1260s was Hovhannes. A significant number of manuscripts by unknown artists of the second half of the century have been preserved.

Although the system of illustrating the Gospels has changed only slightly, their thematic and ornamental coverage has been significantly enriched. Toros Roslin gave new iconographic features to evangelical themes.

His high classic works are enlivened by the fact that the miniaturist used real types and faces to create evangelical images. His scenes are accompanied by images of biblical prophets.

Roslin developed color to the subtlest shades, used rich transparent tones, and gave his characters extraordinary naturalness. Toros Roslin and subsequent representatives of the Cilician court school were in many ways ahead of the 14th-century Italian trecento.

In “The Gospel of Queen Keran”, “The Gospel of Prince Vasak”, “Hethum II’s Lecture Hall”, and other works from the 1280s, Roslin synthesized pictorial methods of Armenian and other cultures.

Artists of the time developed the style of Roslin in the direction of some dramatization of images. The brilliant examples of biblical illustration are the Bibles of Hovhannes Arkayeghbayr of 1263–1266 and 1270, as well as the Bible of King Hethum of 1295.

However, in general, after the fall of Hromkla (where the throne of the Catholicos was located) in 1292, the Cilician miniature school suffered a decline, with thematic miniatures being no longer created.

Miniature of Toros Roslin, 1262
Miniature of Sargis Pitsak, 1331
Hovhannes Arkayhbayr, “The destruction of Hell”
Miniature of Toros Taronatsi, 1232
Miniature of Toros Roslin, 1266
Thumbnail from the Gospel of Prince Vasak, 1232
Miniature of 1283, British Library
Manuscript 1287
Gospel of the XIV century, miniaturist Grigor

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