Armenian Rare Books at an Exhibition in Prague

Armenian Rare Books at an ExhibitionBeing the largest historic-architectural complex of Prague, Clementinum – now the location of the Prague National Library – is a frequent location to host prestigious exhibitions.

Here in 2015 was showcased the oldest Czech manuscript, the Codex Vyssegradensis created in 1085. In 2016, Clementinum held an exhibition titled “Armenian book art over centuries.”

The curator of the exhibition Hayk Utidian himself supervised the arrival and transport of the treasures of the Armenian book collection to Prague. The arrived collection included such “golden” exemplars of Armenian writing as the 1664 collection of psalms and a 1513 Armenian missal. “I think that the exhibition will become a true enjoyment for the eyes of its visitors,” assured Utidian the journalists who arrived at the Václav Havel Airport Prague.

After the transportation of the books to Clementinum, the books needed time to acclimatize to the local temperature and humidity. The exhibition would commence on October 11 several days after the arrival of the books.

The exhibition project organized thanks to the cooperation of the national libraries of Yerevan and Prague allowed the visitors to go deep into the history of Armenian book printing, examine the rarest Armenian texts, as well as unique Czech works printed in Armenian letters. The exhibition also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Armenia.

As Utidian had remarked prior to the commencement of the exhibition, 75 exemplars of Armenian book art would be presented, including the Armenian translations of Czech stories for children “All About Doggie and Pussycat” by Josef Čapek and the satirical dark comedy “The Good Soldier Švejk” by Jaroslav Hašek. Possibly the most remarkable showpiece of the exhibition was the oldest Armenian edition of the Bible, which was published in Amsterdam in 1666.

Co-organizer of the exhibition Irena Maniakova said: “Our Armenian partners kindly paid for the insurance of the rarest books lent for this exhibition. Of course, this significantly mitigated our financial burden. The Armenian side also covered the expenses of the transportation of the literature to the Prague National Library.”

A share of the books was dedicated to the Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire during WWI. This tragedy has become the base of the works of many Czech writers, including “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” written by Franz Werfel, an Austrian-Bohemian novelist native to Prague. In 1922, Werfel met Armenian refugees in Aleppo. Shocked by what he had seen and heard, he sought to draw the attention of the public towards the Armenian Genocide upon his return to Czechoslovakia.

by Loreta Vashková

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