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ST JOHN OF DAMASCUS (attrib.). The Legend of Barlaam and Ioasaph: JOHN, PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM. Life of St John of Damascus: ST JOHN OF DAMASCUS. Commentary on the Pauline Epistles: Life of Saints Cyricus and Julitta, in Arabic, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON PAPER
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ST JOHN OF DAMASCUS (attrib.). The Legend of Barlaam and Ioasaph: JOHN, PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM. Life of St John of Damascus: ST JOHN OF DAMASCUS. Commentary on the Pauline Epistles: Life of Saints Cyricus and Julitta, in Arabic, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON PAPER

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ST JOHN OF DAMASCUS (attrib.). The Legend of Barlaam and Ioasaph: JOHN, PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM. Life of St John of Damascus: ST JOHN OF DAMASCUS. Commentary on the Pauline Epistles: Life of Saints Cyricus and Julitta, in Arabic, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON PAPER

Aleppo, 1639
395 x 260mm. ii + 223 + ii leaves, each text separately paginated in red, these paginations followed here, 33 lines of naskh written in black ink, line numberings in inner margins in red, some headings in red or gold, titles in bold thuluth, colophons in divani, marginal annotations in red, ONE FULL-PAGE MINIATURE, and TWENTY-SIX RECTANGULAR MINIATURES with painted frames, some with gold (first gathering and final two text leaves loose and the leaves secured with tape, some spotting and occasional stains, small tears in the margins of five leaves and extending into the text and miniature of pp.111/112, restoration of edges or gutters of five leaves, slight losses of pigment or smudging especially affecting miniatures on pp.20, 56, 87, 111, 112 and 113). Contemporary Mount Lebanon or north Syrian red panelled goatskin over thin pasteboard with foliate leaf- and lozenge-shaped tools, embossed gilt floral pastedowns, red and green sprinkled edges (stained and scuffed).

PROVENANCE:

Al-Shaykh Usta Ghannam and his son the Shammas Yacqub: the colophon at the end of the third text tells that the book was completed by Yusuf ibn Antonios, pupil of Patriarch Kir Aftimios on Thursday 6 June 7147 of the Adam Calendar (1639 AD) and was written for al-Shaykh Usta Ghannam and his son the Shammas Yacqub in the time of the Catholicos Kir Malatios al-Halabi al-Thani, Bishop of Aleppo, during the fourth year of his term. Another colophon giving the same information, but without the day or month of completion, is found at the end of the first text. In two verses below the final colophon the scribe maintains that even if the book is sold for its weight in gold, the seller will be shortchanged. According to a note inside the upper cover the book weighs 2500 grammes.

Yusuf ibn Antonios ibn Sudan al-Halabi (died c.1667) was a renowned icon painter, illuminator and calligrapher: his skills as a calligrapher are readily apparent in the pages of this mansuscript and it is possible that he also contributed to the illustration. For Yusuf, known as al-Musawwir, see: Pages of Perfection: Islamic Paintings and Calligraphy from the Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, catalogue of the 1995 Paris/Lugano/New York exhibition, no 50, pp.266-67.

CONTENT:

Barlaam and Ioasaph, attributed to St John of Damascus pp.1-122; Life of St John of Damascus, here attributed to the Patriarch of Constantinople pp.1-112; St John of Damascus, Commentary on the Pauline Epistles pp.1-197; Life of Saints Cyricus and Julitta added on 5 unnumbered pages.

As it was originally written by Yusuf ibn Antonios the manuscript was devoted to the life and works of St John of Damascus, Greek theologian and Doctor of the Church. Born around 676 and known as an ardent Christian whose religious fervour was unaffected by his Saracen environment, he must have seemed particularly relevant to members of the Syrian Catholic church in the 17th century. Knowledge of the saint's life is dependent on the 10th-century account written by John, Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is here attributed to the Patriarch of Constantinople and the nickname 'golden stream' given to the Damascene on account of his fluent oratory becomes, in Arabic, 'golden mouth'.

The legend of Barlaam and Ioasaph is a Christian retelling of part of the story of Buddha but with the central character achieving enlightenment through the love of Christ. The work is traditionally attributed to St John of Damascus and, although this is unproven, the Greek version of the legend does seem to have been written at the monastery of Mar Saba during the 7th century. From the middle of the 11th century Barlaam and Ioasaph became Byzantine saints, prompting the translation of the legend into Slavonic, Armenian and Arabic. The Arabic translation is also believed to have been made at Mar Saba.

The other principal work of the Damascene included in this volume is his extensive commentary on the Pauline Epistles in the translation made by the Patriarch of Antioch.

ILLUMINATION:

This is an exceptionally full series of illustrations exceeding by far the number of scenes usually found in manuscripts of Barlaam and Ioasaph. The illustrations are the work of two artists and the miniatures of both show an obvious debt to Greek and Armenian illumination with Ottoman influence apparent in some decorative details. From the 13th until the 20th century Aleppo was the second city of the Arab world, not only a focus of Middle Eastern trade but a meeting point between East and West. Contact with Europeans is reflected by the dress of the tricked fowler in the fable illustrations on p.28. The great expansion of trade in the 16th and 17th centuries supported a flourishing business in the production of ecclesiastical and secular manuscripts in this wealthy mercantile city.

The subjects of the miniatures are as follows:

i verso St John of Damascus enthroned and writing
p.10 Ioasaph and his teacher
p.10 Ioasaph with his father King Ebnir (Abenner)
p.14 Ioasaph meeting Barlaam in the guise of a merchant
p.20 Ioasaph embraces Barlaam
p.28 Two miniatures of the fable of the hunter and the black bird, a) the fowler -- a European -- approaches the trapped bird, b) the fowler releasing the bird
p.38 a turbanned man holds onto the branches of two trees to keep himself from falling into the jaws of a dragon and its accompanying serpents, two mice, one black for night and one white for day, gnaw through the branches
p.51 Barlaam showing his monastic dress to Ioasaph
p.55 Barlaam baptising Ioasaph
p,56 Barlaam giving Ioasaph the sacrament
p.62 Barlaam bids farewell to Ioasaph
p.63 Ioasaph alone in his palace prays to God
p.69 King Ebnir seated beside his son
p.73 God appearing to Ioasaph
p.87 Tudas brought, bound, before King Ebnir
p.92 Ioasaph asleep attended by maidens
p.98 Tudas in the presence of the King and Ioasaph
p.105 The King being baptised with Ioasaph in attendance
p.110 Ioasaph praying for the King and his subjects
p.111 Ioasaph giving his clothes to a pauper
p.112 A black devil appearing to Ioasaph in the wilderness
p.113 The black devil threatening Ioasaph with a sword
p.113 The devil appearing to Ioasaph in the form of terrifying monsters
p.114 The devil appearing to Ioasaph in the form of a great dragon and a serpent
p.115 Ioasaph drinking from a well
p.116 Ioasaph knocking at the entrance to Barlaam's cave
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