Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander

Documentary heritage submitted by Bulgaria and the United Kingdom and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2017.

© The British Library, Headpiece of the Gospel of Matthew

The Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander (1331–1371), also known as London Gospel/s, is a codex which contains the text of four Gospels in Slavonic, each preceded by a list of chapters and Ammonian sections.  The royal portraits in the manuscript are a unique expression of the King’s political ideology, personal piety and patronage of the arts. The portraits contribute to the outstanding artistic achievement of the manuscript and document the ideology in the realm of Byzantine civilization in the turbulent years before the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. The Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander is famous for its rich illumination. Three principal artists executed the 367 miniatures with gold ornamentation which illustrate the text, opening with the portrait of the Bulgarian royal family. Other portraits of Tsar Ivan Alexander with an image of the Evangelist are painted at the end of each Gospel where the King is represented among the righteous in the Garden of Eden. The miniatures, which are the earliest known copies of those in the eleven-century Byzantine Gospels BnF cod. Paris. gr. 74, have inspired directly and indirectly a series of luxury copies commissioned by princely and ecclesiastical persons in Wallachia and Moldavia (present day Rumania). As a key element in transmitting the Byzantine legacy through the centuries and different countries, the Gospels are a rare witness of a process concerning medieval and modern Southern European culture. The later history of the codex, brought from Mount Athos by Lord Robert Curzon and donated to the British Library by his heirs, focuses European cultural, political and religious values. 

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