- The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, from Genocide to Justice by Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh
manuscript studies, Middle Ages, Armenia
Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh's The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, from Genocide to Justice does not belong to a single literary genre. On the one hand, it is the biography of a thirteenthcentury Armenian manuscript, a project that dictates the chronological organization of content, the informal tone of chapter openings, and the loose relationship between text and image. On the other hand, it is a history of the Armenian people who moved in and out of this thirteenth-century Armenian manuscript's orbit, a project that dictates themes and subjects and necessitates a scholarly apparatus. The manuscript in question is Toros Roslin's Zeytun Gospels, a gospel book that was divided during the desperate days of the Armenian Genocide in the early twentieth century, the "mother" manuscript ultimately making its way to the Matenadaran (MS 10450, Yerevan, Armenia) and eight canon table pages (or four bifolia) making theirs to the J. Paul Getty Museum (MS 59, Los Angeles, California, United States). These canon tables are the title's missing pages. A lawsuit [End Page 346] brought by the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America against the Getty Museum for restitution, plus damages, opens the book; the settlement of the lawsuit, wherein the Armenian Apostolic Church is acknowledged to be the owner of these pages, closes it.
I imagine Watenpaugh would say that a main accomplishment of The Missing Pages is its ability to make the dislocation, violence, separation, and loss suffered by Armenians under Ottoman rule manifest. Indeed, there is something about the portability and vulnerability of this gospel book that allows it to make such peculiarly human miseries palpable, a connection heightened perhaps by the flesh of its pages and certainly by the communal feeling it provoked. As an art historian of the medieval Levant writing a review for Manuscript Studies, however, I will underline different accomplishments altogether.
Since the progress of The Missing Pages depends on the life of the Zeytun Gospels, it does not have an argument. As a result, it is difficult to give a sense for the whole in tidy chapter summaries that together accomplish some set of interpretive goals. There are, however, valuable discussions within chapters that make real contributions to larger art historical efforts.
Thanks to a detailed colophon, we know Toros Roslin copied and illuminated the Zeytun Gospels in medieval Cilicia's Hromkla in 1256 for the Catholicos Constantine. This date makes the Zeytun Gospels the earliest extant manuscript signed by Roslin and, even more important, the earliest extant example of Roslin's inspired hand, which borrowed strategically om Byzantine, Islamic, and Frankish ("Crusader") artistic traditions to create dramatic and poignant biblical scenes that are without parallel. Thanks to Watenpaugh, we know not only where, when, and for whom the Zeytun Gospels were made, we know also where the Gospels went, when they went there, how they were used, and what agendas they served. This information, culled and woven together om memoirs, testimonials, travel accounts, photographs, and additional colophons within the manuscript itself, makes the life of the Zeytun Gospels better understood than perhaps any other medieval manuscript.
This, then, is a major art historical contribution of Watenpaugh's The Missing Pages. In addition to providing information related to often-elusive [End Page 347] aspects of manuscripts such as use, function, audience, reception, handling, storage, and movement, Watenpaugh's account of the Zeytun Gospels is also part of a larger conversation on what Arjun Appadurai has called the social life of things, which emphasizes the constantly changing circumstances and meanings of "things" over the interpretations of historians that imply these are static. The chapters, in fact, are named after places where the manuscript has resided. Accordingly, we read about the birth of a sacred manuscript in "Hromkla" and its...