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THE CONTINUITY OF THE TRADITIONS

OF ARMENIAN MANUSCRIPTS

IN EARLY PUBLICATIONS IN AMSTERDAM

 

ARPENIK GHAZAROSYAN

 

After Gutenberg’s discovery of book printing in the 1440s, printing houses were established alongside manuscript copying centers in Armenian com­muni­ties all over the world. Printed books appeared next to classical manuscripts. Five books were published using 24 frontal ornaments in 1512-1513.

Already from the 1520s, prototypes of title pages began to be used in printed Armenian books. The first printed Armenian books resembled manu­scripts as far as possible. The illustrations were black and white with different ornaments for capital letters and floral ornaments for margins. The bolorgir script was used without accurate word separation. The punctuation was also archaic, using only colons and full stops. Reading and declamation signs similar to the markings in manuscripts were used. These principles of copying and il­lustration that come from the manuscript tradition are seen in printed Armenian books until the 16th-17th centuries.

Just like Armenian manuscripts, the printed Armenian books also differed from the book traditions of other peoples with their colophons. Indeed, the prin­ciples behind colophon writing are the same both in the manuscript and in the printed book traditions.

Starting from the 17th century, the printed book colophons, like those of manuscripts, became longer and contained more detailed information. The sub­ject matter of printed books was the reason for corresponding developments in art and technology. The manuscript approach was more notable mainly in printed books of a ceremonial nature. The reason for this was the long-estab­lished tradition of ornamentation of ceremonial texts.

The early period of Armenian printing in Amsterdam was led by Voskan Yerevantsi. The texts of these publications include questions in dark black italic scripts that corresponds to the red letters originally used in manuscripts.

Voskan Yerevantsi commissioned the first accurate signs for Armenian musical notation (khaz), which were created for printing sharakans – Armenian liturgical hymns.

The continuation of manuscript-copying traditions are seen in the early publications of Amsterdam. The book is divided into folios with eight pages on each sheet. The only difference is that in printed books Arabic numerals are used alongside Armenian numerals for the folios, while Arabic numerals are used on the pages in the book.

As book printing developed, texts began to feature accurate word sepa­ra­tion and punctuation marks that began to resemble modern Armenian usage over time.

Another evidence of the manuscript tradition preserved in early book printing is the binding (leather with ornamentation) and the red or golden yellow colouring of book edges. Printed books, especially Bibles, were covered with special double binding, including metal ornaments in order to make them look like traditional manuscripts.

A lot of historical and religious, translated and original works were pre­served by being published in early Armenian printing houses. Meanwhile, the difficult work of copying out written text was replaced with the faster and easier machinery. 

Nevertheless, the manuscript tradition survived parallel to printing tech­nology for a long period. 

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