Book review

Medieval contexts and modern realities of a Genocide-survivor artwork: A review article of Heghnar Watenpaugh’s The Missing Pages

Published in:
  • Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies.. - 2020, vol. 27, p. 117-130
English This article is a critical review of Heghnar Watenpaugh’s monograph The Missing Pages, which traces the history of the thirteenth-century Zeytun Gospels from its creation to the 2010s, when several of the manuscript’s illustrated folios became subject to a restitution claim through a lawsuit filed by the Armenian Church against the Getty Museum. It highlights the importance of Watenpaugh’s publication on assembling and clarifying the impressive itinerary of the Zeytun Gospels, the manuscript’s sociocultural functions, as well as the historiographic research on Cilician miniature painting conducted by the author in the framework of this book. In the present article, several issues raised in the book are critically explored from different angles, expressing a partial or significant difference of opinion when it comes to some of the interpretations and contextualizations proposed by Watenpaugh. These include: Watenpaugh’s nonexhaustive consideration of the Zeytun Gospels’ colophons, which stand as the most authentic documentations on the manuscript’s history prior to the twentieth century; her tracing of parallel examples of artifacts that survived the Genocide based not on scholarly research but on popular narratives (and on contemporary literary writings); the discussion of bilingual coins minted by the Armenian king Hetum I and the Seljuk sultan Kaykhusraw II as cases of “complex identities of the period”, without delving into these complexities, and, thus, not doing justice to the nuances of the medieval context of their rule; some aspects of the history of scholarship on Cilician miniature painting; and the way Watenpaugh presents two of the most prominent historians of Armenian art, Sirarpie Der Nersessian and Karekin Hovsepian, and their attitudes toward the ownership and acquisition of Armenian cultural heritage by western art institutions, which appear to be less than balanced in The Missing Pages. Finally, some reflections on contemporary exhibition practices of survivor artifacts, whose current locations of preservation are often a consequence of (cultural) genocide and dubious acquisition practices, require clearer and more in-depth presentation, at least as far as the exhibition history of the Zeytun Gospels and its separated folios is concerned.
Faculté des lettres et des sciences humaines
Département d'histoire de l'art et d'archéologie
  • English
Art history
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