Version intégrale sur la BVMM (IRHT-CNRS)
H 105mm / W 80mm (Ms.056)


This collection of festive liturgical hymns (in Armenian–Ergaran) was transcribed in 1591, as indicated in the colophon, at Küngüs, a bishopric located between Diarbekir and Malatya, in southeast of modern Turkey. The small format of the manuscript indicates that it was intended for private use, but it is notable for the elaborate decoration and the abundance of painted ornaments illuminated with gold. Each major section, which in principle follows the order of the liturgical calendar, is marked with gold and colored vignettes. Each hymn begins with an ornate letter followed by a line of gold text, and the titles and second line are in red. The collection includes two full-page paintings, of Joachim and Anne, addressing the Nativity of the Virgin Mary and Pentecost, prefacing the corresponding ode. Finally, some thirty marginal miniatures accompany the songs, placed at the beginning and serving as handy visual cues. Some recall stories, such as those of Adam and Eve, while others represent the saints commemorated, such as St. Joachim and Anna.

The Armenian hymns open with the Canon of the Birth of the Virgin Mary: Canon of the Magnificat and Wonderful Birth of Our Lady of the Virgin by? Joachim and Anna. Opposite this canon is a full-page illustration of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna (folio 3v°).

While the hymn is devoted to the glorification of the Virgin Mary, the illumination shows the prayer of Anna, an episode taken from the apocryphal Gospel of the Childhood of Christ, or the Protoevangelium of James the Armenian translation of which is from a very early period. According to the Armenian version, Anna, seeing a nest of sparrows in the branches of a laurel tree, is distressed in her garden because of its barrenness and cries out to the Lord. Joachim, in turn, prays in the desert where he is with his flock. He asks God to grant him a child as He did for his ancestor, the patriarch Abraham. An angel appears to Joachim and then to Anna and tells them that the Lord will answer their prayers. The couple, each warned in turn, joyfully meet at the gate of Jerusalem.

In our illumination, Anna is praying in her garden. Behind her stands Joachim framed architecturally. Western and Byzantine art has never depicted Joachim with Anna at the moment of her prayer. As a rule, in narrative cycles devoted to the life of the Virgin, they are depicted separately or when they meet.

In Armenian art, however, the depiction of Mary’s parents is attributed to the Hymnarians. And since both Joachim and Anna are mentioned in the title of the canon, they are always together in the same composition. The angel in the upper corner, making a gesture of blessing, shows the divine favor shown to the couple, and the building framing Joachim recalls the couple’s meeting at the city gate.

This iconographic formula has become a classic illustration of the Hymn in Armenia and is found in manuscripts from the 15th to the 17th century.

Edda Vardanian.