Exhibit Opening Reception and Lecture. “Art, Heritage, and the Armenian Genocide: Toros Roslin’s Zeytun Gospels between 1915 and 2015.”
The destruction of cultural heritage during the genocide and its reconstruction in the aftermath constitute powerful symbols of violence, but also of human survival and recovery. Toros Roslin, the most celebrated Armenian artist of the Middle Ages illuminated Gospels (dated 1256 in the Kingdom of Cilicia) is a telling example. Known as the Zeytun Gospels, the manuscript resided in a church in Zeytun (Süleymanli in present-day Turkey) until 1915. The First World War affected Zeytun’s inhabitants who were deported and largely exterminated during the genocide of the Ottoman Armenians of 1915-1922. The manuscript was removed from the town, passed from hand to hand during the deportations, caught in the vagaries of war, and sundered into two. Its most beautiful pages -- eight illuminated folios known as the Canon Tables -- are housed today in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Today the Canon Tables have become the object of an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Armenian Church in Los Angeles against the Getty, contesting the artifact’s rightful ownership. That one of the last vestiges of a remote Anatolian mountain town has connected with contemporary American law, cultural activism, and museum politics confirms the continued relevance of cultural heritage, and shows how the Great War’s consequences, including the Genocide, continue to haunt Middle Eastern societies and their diasporas.
This talk focuses on the Zeytun Gospels during and after the war, prior to the fragmentary Canon Tables’ arrival in the United States. Through a painstaking recovery of disparate materials, Watenpaugh traces the path of a single work of art during the deportations; equally important, she reconstructs the way in which Armenians viewed works of art, especially religious manuscripts, as they witnessed their own extermination, the confiscation of their possessions and the destruction of their cultural heritage.
Heghnar Watenpaugh, associate professor of art history, University of California, Davis