The Gospels of Joseph Devochkin.
8vo (147mm. by 98mm.), 384 folios plus 8 blank flyleaves, collation: i8, ii9[8+1], iii6, iv-xi8, xii7[apparently 6+1], xiii-xiv8, xv7[apparently 6+1], xvi8, xvii7[apparently 6+1], xviii-xxiii8, xxiv9[8+1], xxv-xxxvi8, xxxvii10[8+2], xxxviii8, xxxix7[apparently 6+1], xl-xliv8, xlv7[apparently 6+1], xlvi9[8+1], xlvii8, xlvii10, gatherings numbered, 20 lines, written space generally 105 x 60mm., written in black ink in a semi-uncial hand, punctuation in red, titles, initials and rubrics in gold, sixteen marginal decorative cartouches in colours, eleven illuminated headpieces, four on title pages with large illuminated initials, vjaz titles and borders, painted in shades of green, orange and grey in lush patterns of scrolling foliage with tendrils, three full-page illuminated evangelist portraits, with three-quarter borders, protective silk panels with full-borders facing the miniatures, contemporary russian red velvet over wooden boards, four brass cornerpieces and central lozenge on upper cover, brass clasps with leather ties covered in brown velvet, edges gilt and gauffered, lacking one miniature and protective panel, miniatures rather rubbed, number of leaves detatched or becoming loose as is common with this type of manuscript, some dampstaining and spotting rarely affecting text, binding has been repaired at a fairly early stage, velvet split at top corner of front hinge, a few fastening pins lacking from cornerpieces
A colophon on fol.384r reveals that the manuscript was made for "Iosif (Joseph) Devochkin of the Sergius Monastery". The Trinity-St Sergii Lavra, established in 1340 by St Sergii of Radonezh (1322-1392), is situated forty-five miles north of Moscow in Zagorsk. It was an important centre of learning in late medieval and early modern Russia, and became very rich from royal and noble patronage. It owned a hundred estates with over 100,000 serfs, and maintained a private army of 20,000 soldiers. These resources were tested to the full in the monastery's defining hour, when it withstood a strong Polish attack of 30,000 troops led by Sapieha and Lisovski for sixteen months in 1608-1610. This was the very moment that this manuscript was made. Joseph Devochkin was the treasurer of the monastery between 1606 and 1613, and so was in a crucial position during the siege. The monastery's strength during this "Time of Troubles" helped hugely in maintaining Russia's independent identity when it was in question, and there appears little doubt that Devochkin's Gospel Book would have been a constant source of comfort and inspiration to him during the dark days that would ultimately end in the confounding of the attempt to take Russia from the Russians.
russian gospel books are of the utmost rarity. Besides those sold from the Fekula collection in these rooms on 29 November 1990, only a handful have been sold at auction in this country since the manuscript which was lot 96 in the Bragge sale on 7 June 1876. Even rarer are manuscripts of this small size and elaborate workmanship, intended for an individual rather than an institution. Indeed the only other Gospel Book that has had a certain personal provenance was that belonging to Boris Godunov, Tsar of Russia 1598-1605, which was lot 119, sale in these rooms, 23 June 1975.
The Gospels in Old Slavonic with the introductions and foreword by Theophilact, Archbishop of Bulgaria, tables of chapters, Menology (Calendar of Saints' Days) and lists of readings for those days.
The manuscript is dated in a colophon, "Completed in the year 7-100-6-10 on the 5-10 of February" (i.e. 15 February 1608). Dated Russian manuscripts are unusual. Ralph Cleminson lists only ten earlier dated Russian manuscripts in his Union Catalogue of Cyrillic Manuscripts in British and Irish Collections (1988).
The miniatures are painted in the Byzantine style popular in Russia at the period and are probably by the scribe who signs himself "the sinful Gavrilka, son of Sergei, Basov, also known as Ivashko". This is presumably the same Basov who signed at least four other manuscripts and who in a Life of Zosima and Savvatii, copied in 1623 for Aleksandr Bulatnikov, goes out of his way to affirm his reponsibility for the whole work, "the writing in ink, and the gilding, and the images, and the decoration".
The subjects of the miniatures are:
Folio 13v. St Matthew, sitting before a desk in a Byzantine study, writing his Gospel on his lap, the desk in front of him with ink stands and quills.
Folio 182v. St Luke, in his study enclosed by high towers, with his feet resting on a footstool, writing his Gospel on his lap.
Folio 286v. St John, sitting outside a cave in a rocky landscape and listening to the words of his Gospel as they are sent down by God and dictated to his scribe and disciple Prochorus who sits with pen and book.
The four brass cornerpieces each depict one of the four Evangelists, whilst the central lozenge contains a crucifixion scene. A very similar binding, albeit on a larger scale, is on a Gospel Book of about the same period that is now in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin (W152).
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