Illuminated Historical Documents

Despite the vagaries of history, difficulties and acts of destruction, several tens of thousands of 11th to 19th century documents in Georgian and other languages are preserved in the depositories of antiquities of Georgia. The National Centre of Manuscripts (NCM) is the greatest depository of old manuscripts and historical documents, part of which are richly illuminated. Up to 46.000 historical documents, originals and copies in Georgian, Arabic, Persian, Ottoman and other languages, are stored in the collections of the Georgian and Oriental Departments (Ad, Hd, Sd, Qd; Ard; Pd; Turd). A substantial number of documents are also preserved in the National Archives of Georgia (NAG), Ministry of Justice of Georgia– approximately 30.000 documents, of which 10.000 are original (collections: 1448, 1452, 1453). Georgian and Oriental documents are preserved in the Shalva Amiranashvili Museum of Art, Georgian National Museum, as well as in the regional museums in Kutaisi (ca. 2,500), Gori, Zugdidi, Batumi, and Akhaltsikhe. Also there are important collections in major foreign museums and monastic archives (Jerusalem, Mount Sinai, Mount Athos), and especially significant Ottoman documents about Georgia are preserved in Turkey and Bulgaria.

The political and cultural contacts, existing with different countries throughout the history, are reflected in the material and written cultural legacy of Georgia. Because of its geographical location, Georgia has always retained close relations with both East and West. It lies at the crossroads of different cultures, which have merged and occasionally transformed the country. At the boundary of the Hellenic-Byzantine, Eastern and Western worlds, Georgia has synthesized these cultures.

The Georgian, Persian and Ottoman historical documents, preserved in Georgia and written in various languages, reflect the political and cultural changes that Georgia, as well as its neighbouring countries, had undergone over a long period of time: in the Middle Ages, when Byzantium was the primary source of inspiration for Georgia, manuscripts and historical documents reflected Christian Orthodox trends in their form, structure and artistic design. In the 16th to 18th centuries, when Georgia was divided and different areas of the country were controlled by Safavid Iran and Ottoman Turkey, the impact and influence of these preponderantly Muslim cultures was reflected in the illumination of Georgian secular manuscripts and documents, primarily Georgian-Persian bilingual documents, and also in the drawing up of Persian and Ottoman firmans. From the end of the eighteenth century, conforming to the country’s new political situation, Georgian art came under the influence of West European and Russian culture, introduced by Catholic missionaries, as well as Russian officials and ecclesiastics.

Among the major documents of the 15th to 18th centuries many examples stand out, including documents adorned with portraits of Georgian kings, ecclesiastic and secular patrons, as well as those with miniatures featuring a variety of subjects. There are also highly artistic and unique documents decorated with initials, floral, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic motifs seen in Georgian, Islamic and European manuscript illumination. Oriental documents are distinguished by their calligraphy and tuğra, as well as the lavishly decorated motifs. Different types of document were illuminated: Georgian – blood-money deeds, charters of grant and donation; Persian and Ottoman – firman, berat, imperial decrees, charters granting estates and documents of ritual content.

The aim of the project: Georgian, Persian and Ottoman illuminated historical documents in Georgian Depositories of Georgia”: enables scholars, students and persons from the general public interested in Georgian, Persian and Ottoman illuminated documents preserved in the depositories of antiquities of Georgia, their study from the historical and art historical points of view.

Georgian and Oriental collections consist of some 200 documents, illustrating the development of the rich calligraphic and artistic heritage of the Christian and Islamic worlds from the 11th to the early 19th century.  The creation of an electronic database of illuminated historical documents, together with digital recording, and the preparation of an extensively annotated and illustrated catalogue is based on the study of the illuminated documents as one specific variety of written record. It sheds light on the development of this type of documents, and its relation to the artistic trends of the Christian and Islamic worlds. The project will be of interest to specialists, as well as to the broad public interested in the Christian and Islamic art.

Eventually, we intend to publish the study a colour an illustrated catalogue of Georgian, Persian, and Ottoman Illuminated Historical Documents, provided further funding is obtained.