THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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7 posts categorized "Bulgaria"

12 July 2016

Balkan Day II in Drawings by Ian Long

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The south-eastern countries of the Balkans were in focus of Balkan Day II: A Rich Heritage of Stories, a public event held at the British Library on 24 June 2016.

The Balkans is home to a great number of fascinating stories and traditions, many of which remain untold in English. This event brought together some of the leading contemporary academics, writers and translators who talked about writing and creating in this fertile cultural space.

The event featured a range of authors, translators, publishers and others speaking on various topics.  Artist Ian Long captured the speakers in the course of the day, and some of his portraits are reproduced below. You can also hear some of the talks from the event here.

In the first two keynote speeches, Kapka Kassabova (below) spoke on the theme Borderland: Notes from a Journey to Europes Last Frontier, where Bulgaria and Turkey Meet, and Robert Elsie described The Chaotic Course of Albanian Literature.

Kapka Kassabova 2

 In a session chaired by poet and editor Fiona Sampson, Ioana Parvulescu and Alek Popov spoke on the theme of Authors as Cultural Ambassadors: How does the history and mythology of the homeland influence the stories we tell today?


Ioana Parvulescu 2
Ioana Parvulescu

A panel of translators - John Hodgson, Christopher Buxton, Stephen Watts and Mevlut Ceylan, with Christina Pribichevich Zoric in the chair - reflected on the question ‘Should translators of ‘small languages’ aim to be invisible or consider themselves a second author?’ in a session entitled Bringing the Balkans Westward. 

John hodgson
John Hodgson 

Christopher Buxton

Christopher Buxton

Christina Pribichevich Zoric 2
Christina Pribichevich Zoric

The event ended with a screening of the film Balkan Spirit, followed by a discussion with its director Hermann Vaske.


Ian Long

Ian Long is a writer and graphic artist. He is keen to take drawing out into the world and see what it can do, in the widest possible variety of situations.

 

23 June 2016

Literary Translation: Whose Voice is it Anyway?

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Speaking about the translator who introduced Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov to the English reading audience, Joseph Brodsky, once wrote: “The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky is that they aren’t reading the prose of either one. They’re reading Constance Garnett.” On the other hand, there have been instances where a translation is said to be better than the original.

Kadare

    Front cover of Ismail Kadare, The Wedding. Rendered into English by Ali Cungu. (Tirana, 1968). X.908/16616.

So, whose voice is the reader hearing when reading a novel, or a poem, in translation – the author’s or the translator’s? How faithful to the original should a translation be? To what degree should the translation be “adjusted” or “improved” to facilitate its reading by the target audience?

Ghost

 Typescript. Front cover of  William B. Bland, The ghost at the wedding. Based on the novel “The wedding” by Ismail Kadare. (Ilford, 1969). X.950/13209.

These are questions that apply to literary translation from any language, of course, but they are especially relevant when translating from so-called smaller languages, where the context, references, and even style and rhythm may be alien to the foreign reading public.

Arghezi

Frontispiece. Arghezi’s self-portrait. From Tudor Arghezi, Flori de Mucigai. Cu un autoportret inedit. (Bucharest, 1931). RB.23.a.20598.

On 24 June, Balkan Day at the British Library, I will be chairing a panel of literary translators who have introduced the English-speaking world to some of the best writing that Southeastern Europe has to offer. We will be discussing their approaches to literary translation and whether they think of literary translation as craft or creation. And who better to tell us than Christopher Buxton, author of two novels and translator of numerous contemporary and classical Bulgarian novelists and poets; the Turkish poet Melvut Ceylan, who lives in London and has translated both Turkish poetry into English and English poetry into Turkish; John Hodgson, who has brought us, among others, the work of Ismail Kadare and is one of only a few translators to be working directly from Albanian into English; and the poet Stephen Watts, whose many translations of poetry include the work of the surrealist Romanian poet Gellu Naum and Tudor Arghezi.

Naum

 Frontispiece. Naum’s portrait by Victor Brauner. From Gellu Naum, Culoarul somnului. Cu un desen de Victor Brauner. (Bucharest, 1944). YA.2000.a.8782.

I know this is going to be a very lively discussion. How do I know? I’m a literary translator myself.

Christina Pribichevich Zorić, Former Chief of Conference and Language Services at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

 

20 June 2016

An Introduction to Bulgarian Literature

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In advance of this year’s Balkan Day at the British Library on 24 June 2016, Christopher Buxton offers an overview of Bulgarian literature past and present.

Bulgaria lies at the south-eastern tip of Europe, and Bulgarians are painfully conscious of this, particularly in the context of their 500 year subjugation by the Ottoman Empire. Their history, before and after this subjugation, has its glorious and inglorious aspects, typical of every country’s history. It is a story of resilience, bravery and faith alongside darker themes of betrayal and massacre. The dualism of the Bogomil heresy, arguably one of Bulgaria’s significant contributions to Medieval European ideas, permeates Bulgarian writing to this day. While 19th-century novelists and poets stoked the fires of revolution, they also never stopped lamenting the perceived passivity, hypocrisy and backwardness of their compatriots. Hristo Botev, famous for his stirring nationalist call to arms, would rhyme patriots with idiots. Petko Slaveikov would declare: we are not a nation, we are carrion.

Hristo Botev in his poem dedicated to the freedom fighter Hadzhi Dimitur, and Ivan Vazov in his great novel Under the Yoke helped create the binary opposites of Bulgarians struggling against the intolerably cruel Turkish subjugation. During communism, these stereotypes were reinforced by writers like Haitov and Donchev. These binary opposites extended to Partisans combating the dastardly reactionary forces.

Every country’s literature has its more uncomfortable stereotypes: Spain – Don Quixote, the Czech Republic  – Švejk . The satirical writer Aleko Konstantinov created Bai Ganyo, the Bulgarian travelling salesman, let loose on the capital cities of civilized Europe. Ignorant and cunning in equal measure, a source of embarrassment and hilarity for his better educated compatriots, Bai Ganyo casts a long shadow over Bulgarian consciousness..

After liberation in 1878 Bulgaria saw a succession of wars, a heartbreaking diminution of homeland, the rise of a terrorist organization which would play a profound political role, a series of coups, a bomb outrage, a white terror from 1924 and an even more savage red terror from 1944, and a second “liberating” invasion by the Soviet Union which led to 45 years of Communist rule.

Geo Milev

Front cover of Geo Milev, Septemvri. (Sofia, 1948). YA.2001.a.38809.

These years saw the emergence of strong poetic voices. They include Bulgaria’s Great War poet, Dimcho Debelyanov, who was killed in action in 1916. His poem One Dead bears comparison with Wilfred Owen’s Strange Meeting. A veteran who barely survived the Great War, Geo Milev, was murdered by Macedonian vigilantes, after his radical poetry upset the authorities. Two other poets, Hristo Smirnenski and Nikola Vaptsarov, reflected the political turbulence of the times. This same turbulence was to fatally affect Bulgaria’s greatest poet, Peyo Yavorov, on both a personal and political level. His poem, Refugees, on the victims of Balkan ethnic cleansing, is sadly relevant today. His love poetry, for which he is justly revered in Bulgaria, poses quite a challenge for the translator with its hypnotic rhythms and internal rhymes. In the area of personal relationships, there are three strong female voices – Mara Belcheva, Dora Gabe and Elisaveta Bagryana – I would dare to suggest singing over the heads of their male competitors. The spirit of pre-war modernism is reflected in the dark symbolic poetry of Atanas Dalchev.

Bagryana

Elissaveta Bagranya. Portrait from Elissaveta Bagryana Ten poems, in the original and in an English translation. (Sofia, 1970). X.989/8515.

Alongside the poets, three masters of the short story deserve attention – Yordan Yovkov, Elin Pelin and Chudomir. These writers convey the comedy and tragedy of close community, in eloquent economy. They have their present day counterparts – notably Deyan Enev, whose short stories have been translated by Kapka Kasabova and published by Portobello Books.

There has been a tendency to ignore the writers who were active during the Communist period. Working within the tight censorship of the USSR’s most faithful satellite, some writers produced works of outstanding genius. I would point to Ivailo Petrov’s novel, Wolf Hunt, a tragic comic village blood-letting reminiscent of Faulkner. I should also mention the brave Stanislav Stratiev, whose plays highlighting the absurdities of Communist bureaucracy have been performed on the London stage.

Post-communism, there is now a flowering of Bulgarian writing, much of which waits to be translated and published. Two books by Alec Popov  Mission London and The Black Box have been published by Istros Books and Peter Owen  respectively. Each portrays the pathos of Bulgarian existence in the west with sympathetic black humour. The Physics of Sorrow, Georgi Gospodinov’s poetic disquisition on existence published in English by Open Letter, offers a unique insight into Bulgarian self deprecation, playful humour and otherness..

Still awaiting a publisher, is Milen Ruskoff’s masterpiece, The Heights, which won its author the European Prize for Literature in 2014. A truly significant re-examination of Bulgaria’s revolutionary brigand past, it eschews patriotic clichés, and provides world literature with two new heroes, comparable to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Bulgarian writers have begun the important task of re-examining their country’s turbulent past, so long misrepresented by ultra patriots and the Communist regime. Alec Popov has written a poignant and hilarious novel about the partisan movement, The Palaveevi Sisters. Hristo Karastoyanov’s One and the Same Night is a painstakingly researched recasting of the state-sponsored murder of Geo Milev. Vladimir Zarev, who began his career in the dusk of communism has written a series of powerful sagas reflecting on the drastic political changes Bulgaria has endured. These changes are also eloquently described by Teodora Dimova, Eli Aleksieva, Emil Andreev, Mikhail Veshim and Kristin Dimitrova.

I am currently working on a translation of Kerana Angelova’s wonderful work of magic realism, Inside Room, a timely cry for the preservation of nature from human depradation.

Younger writers, Yordan Svezhenov, Vasil Georgiev, Peter Dushkov and Radoslav Parushev look to the dystopian present and immediate future for their inspiration in writing well-plotted, arresting satire. The crime genre (with a unique Bulgarian conspiratorial twist) is well served by Lora Lazar and Dimana Trankova.

Finally one should not overlook the growing numbers of Diaspora writers, who capture the comic discomfort and wonder of the Bulgarian abroad:  Kapka Kasabova, Zack Karabashliev, Miroslav Peikov, Isabella Shopova, Victor Tzvetanov and Nevena Mitropolitska.

Bagryana's autograph

Elissaveta Bagryana's autograph, from Elissaveta Bagryana, Ten poems ... 

Christopher Buxton, Author and translator of Bulgarian literature 

Selected references:

New Testament. Новый Завѣтъ на Господа нашего Іисуса Христа, вѣрно и точно прѣведенъ отъ пьрвообразното. Transposed to the Eastern dialect by Petko R. Slaveikov and N. Mikhailovski. Revised by E. Riggs and A. L. Long.] (Constantinople, 1866). 3061.a.7.(1.).  (Digitised at http://books.google.com/books?vid=BL:A0017100786)

Petko Slaveikov, Габровско-то училище и неговы-тѣ пьрвы попечители. (Constantinople, 1866-67). 8357.cc.64. (Digitised at: http://books.google.co.uk/books?vid=BL:A0018535651)

Ivan Vazov, Under the Yoke. With an introduction by Edmund Gosse ... A new and revised edition. (London, 1912). 12590.e.33.

Mara Belcheva, На прага стъпки.. (Sofia, 1918). 11303.d.40.

Dora Gabe, Нѣкога. (Sofia, 1924). 012590.b.89.

Peio Iavorov, P. K. I︠A︡vorov. Jubilee collection. (Sofia, 1938). YA.2002.a.20998.

Chudomir. Alaminut: veseli razkazi. (Sofia, 1940). YA.2001.a.20227.

Iordan Iovkov, Short Stories. Translated by Marco Mincoff and Marguerite Alexieva. (Sofia, 1965). X.909/5413.

Elin Pelin, Short Stories. Translated by Marguerite Alexieva. (Sofia, 1965). X.909/8913.

Hristo Botev, Poems. Translated from the Bulgarian by Kevin Ireland. (Sofia, 1974). YA.1992.b.4827

Aleko Konstantinov, To Chicago and back. Translated from the Bulgarian by Robert Sturm. (Sofia, 2004). YD.2005.a.4865.

Dimcho Debelianov, Svetla viara. Jubilee edition. (Sofia, 2012). YF.2013.a.7791.

 

16 June 2016

What’s in a Name? Looking forward to Balkan Day 2

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The Balkans have had some bad press: from the verb ‘balkanize’, frequently used during the wars of the 1990s, which describes the process of fragmentation or division of a region to the frequent coupling with pejorative words like ‘feud’ or ‘bloodshed’. But when you look at it more objectively, why should a region as rich and varied as the Balkans be classified by violence any more than a area like Alsace-Lorraine, which has surely seen its fair share?

Balkans
The Balkan Peninsula (detail) by Jovan Cvijic (London, 1920). Maps X.4391

In the end, it all comes down to PR and perception. While Alsatian wine, gastronomy and chateaux are well-known tourist attractions, the Balkan countries also have their culinary delights, their liqueurs and their share of palaces, be they Austro-Hungarian or Venetian. When Istros published Faruk Sehic’s transformational novel based on memories of his beloved river Una, the title of the book had to be changed from the original Book of the Una to Quiet Flows the Una in order to indicate the name of a river unfamiliar to English readers. The same problem would not have occurred for a book written about the Rhine. Likewise, people feel alienated by stories from Skopje and Sofia, simply because they reach our public consciousness far less often than Strasbourg.

Balkan Mountains
“Balkan Mountains (© iStock) 

Balkan Day 2014 was billed as ‘a celebration of culture and identity’ and featured regional writers like Dubravka Ugresic, Andrej Nikolaidis and Muharem Bazdulj, among others. This was the first step of an initiative on behalf of Istros Books and the British Library to promote and raise awareness of the region and its culture here in the UK and to raise awareness.

Balkan Day I was greatly appreciated in academic and literary circles, and it is our great hope that this year’s follow-on event  will be just as popular, as we welcome Bulgarian/British writer Kapka Kassabova and the poet Fiona Sampson as well as translators Christopher Buxton, Mevlut Ceylan and Stephen Watts to Balkan Day II: A Rich Heritage of Stories. It will also be an opportunity to view the screening of Hermann Vaske’s riotous documentary film, Balkan Spirit, a film which is rarely shown in the UK but which goes a long way towards breaking down stereotypes and highlighting the positives. The director himself is coming along to this special screening and will be available for a Q&A afterwards, before an open-mike session where all participants and guests can voice their own experiences and thoughts.

In both events, we focused on local literature and translation of those stories into English, in order to highlight the links between the cultures, and the efforts being made to build cultural bridges to further understanding of a much-maligned region. At the recent UK launch of the above-mentioned Bosnian novel, Joseph Cock of Today’s Translations gave us an historical reminder of those links:

‘Perhaps translation in the Balkans has a far greater historical pedigree than we recognise. After all, Jerome, the patron saint of translators, hailed from Illyria, the name given to the Balkan Peninsula in Classical Antiquity.’

However, he goes on to point out a fact we know too well:

‘Yet despite the multitude of stories waiting to be told from the recent history of this region, the literature remains woefully underrepresented to English-speaking audiences.’

Bulgarian rug
Bulgarian rug  (© iStock)

On 24 June the British public] will have the rare opportunity to hear the only two Albanian to English literary translators working today: Robert Elsie and John Hodgson, without whom the UK reader would not have been introduced to the novels of Nobel-nominated Ismail Kadare, or heard the voice of one of Albania’s best-known political dissidents, Fatos Lubonja. There will also be the chance to hear about how the stories of their respective homelands affect the writings of Bulgarian comic author, Alek Popov, and Romania’s Ioana Parvulescu, who is also an historian at Bucharest University. Her broad knowledge of fin-de-siecle Bucharest, of the whims and charms of people of that age, make this an enchanting book and a wonderful example to life in Europe at that time. In both cases, the stories these authors have to tell open new worlds and new perceptions to readers who may have shied away from literature in translation.

Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, Istros Books

 

11 May 2016

Curiosity Helps a Lot

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In another Q&A post with a writer featured in tonight’s European Literature Festival Writers’ Showcase event, we meet Bulgarian author Alek Popov whose novel Black Box is published by Peter Owen 

  ELN Alek Popov
Alek Popov

How did you become a writer?
 
I started by recording a dream many, many years ago.
 
Do you have a favourite character in your fiction? If so, who? And if not, why not?
 
I like very much my secondary characters. They come to life so spontaneously and sometime even contest the leadership of the protagonists.
 
You’re coming to London for European Literature Night. Is there a British author you particularly admire?
 
Joseph Conrad  if he counts. I admire both his talent and his personal strength. What he managed to achieve in a language which was not his native was highly remarkable and could serve as an example of how national barriers and cultural prejudices could be overcome.
 
Other than reading literature in translation, how else can we break down barriers between people of different nationalities and cultures?
 
There will be always barriers between universes, otherwise there will be only one universe. Transcending these barriers either natural or stereotypical always requires efforts, ability to change and learn, and is often marked by internal growth. Curiosity helps a lot. Some degree of generosity too. If you are determined only to sell and not to buy anything from abroad barriers will remain for obvious reasons. Self-indulgence in your own culture and the sense of self-sufficiency can make things even more claustrophobic.
 
Is there a book you wish you’d written? If so what is it?
 
Unfortunately I don’t have the guts and the patience of Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote

What advice would you give to anyone just starting out?
 
If you don’t like loneliness, don’t start this journey.
 
What are you reading now?
 
A piece of fiction that irritates me on almost every possible level… But sometime you can learn a lot from such a book. And I am curious to see how far it will go.
 
Can you tell us anything about your next book?

Well, I am working on the sequel of my latest novel Snow-White and Partisan-Red. The story is set in turbulent times – World War II and the subsequent Cold War. I follow my characters’ steps through bombed Sofia, guerilla trails in Yugoslavia and the streets of London in the 1950s. Two girls from an affluent family taken by dreams of freedom and social justice finally find themselves on the opposite sides of the Iron Curtain. It’s a story of survival, delusion and excitement told in a humorous way, challenging the clichés of history and ideology.

ELN Alek Popov Black Box

09 May 2016

Our May Acronym Heaven: EU, EL, EUPL, ELIT, ELF, ELN, ACE & BL

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As European Literature Festival 2016 begins, we welcome back journalist and broadcaster Rosie Goldsmith to our blog as she introduces the events and gives a hint of what to look forward to at the Writers’ Showcase event on Wednesday 11th

For European Literature (EL) lovers, the month of May is the equivalent of Christmas, Hanukkah or Eid – it’s the festive highlight of our year when we celebrate our year-round efforts to publish and promote our beloved EL. Time to polish the champagne glasses (Boyd Tonkin), buy a new T-shirt (Daniel Hahn) and get out those red shoes (Rosie Goldsmith). This May we have an embarrassment of international literary riches: our first ever European Literature Festival and the first ever annual Man Booker International Prize (MBI)  in conjunction with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP: RIP) .

Eight years ago we had a dream, that we could gather together the best writers from the rest of Europe to London for a one-night-only special event. It had never been done before. Thanks to the mass collaboration of sponsors and partners, our dream became reality. The event became European Literature Night (ELN), initiated by EUNIC London, the Czech Centre and the British Library, and taking place in London and cities all over the continent. Over these eight years our ELN evening has become a week, then a month and this May it is the showcase event in our first European Literature Festival (ELF), embracing more than 30 countries, 60 writers and including poetry, graphic novels, literary fiction, non-fiction, crime thrillers and translation workshops. This year we also have some real British celebrities to boost the brand – Kate Mosse, Mark Lawson and Ian McMillan – and not just cut-price slebs like me and Danny Hahn. EL in the UK has itself become a celebrity. Next year maybe the cover of Vogue? Although we’ll have to do something about our acronyms.

  ELN 2015 Rosie Goldsmith
Rosie Goldsmith at the podium on European Literature Night 2015 (photo (c) MELA)

Here’s the full, fabulous programme: www.europeanliteraturefestival.org.uk and congratulations to ELF’s Artistic Director Jon Slack for making it happen.

As chair of the judges, Director of European Literature Network (ELNet) and host of ELN (keep up!), May is my personal merriest, busiest month. And I can guarantee that we have pulled it off again: the best of contemporary European literature (ok, EL!) is coming your way. British Library (BL – of course!), Wednesday 11th May.

Our six ‘winning’ writers are all literary celebrities ‘back home,’ magnificently translated and selected by us, the judges, from a pool of 65 European writers submitted by publishers and cultural organisations last November. Joining me on stage will be: Burhan Sönmez (Turkey), Dorthe Nors (Denmark), Gabriela Babnik (Slovenia), Peter Verhelst (Belgium), Jaap Robben (Netherlands) and Alek Popov (Bulgaria). They are all outstanding - unique, original, mind-expanding and fun. I love ELN and my two hours on stage, vicariously bathing in the reflected glory of our stars, conducting the equivalent of a BBC Live broadcast. (British Broadcasting Corporation!)

As our ELF Publicity promises: “The discussion will travel from the Turkish prison cells of Burhan Sönmez’s Istanbul, Istanbul to the turned upside-down-lives in Dorthe Nors’  twisted and imaginatively-realised streets of Copenhagen; to Slovenian writer Gabriela Babnik’s  seductive tale of forbidden love on the dusty plains of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; via Peter Verhelst’s deadpan Belgian humour in his Gorilla-narrated fable about the story of human civilisation (and its collapse). There is a tormented relationship unfolding between widow and son on Dutch-writer Jaap Robben’s remote and stormy island (located somewhere between Scotland and Norway); and we finish in Alek Popov’s strange and comic novel that moves between Bulgaria and New York, where two brothers question whether their long-deceased father is, in fact, dead.”

ELF-Writers-FB-Photos
This year's ELN line-up

As our ELF superstar-host Kate Mosse says: “At a time when the countless shared histories and stories from our many friends and strangers in Europe are danger of being lost in the politics of the EU debate, an initiative like the European Literature Festival is more important than ever.” Who needs supermodel Kate Moss on a Vogue cover when you have superstar novelist Kate Mosse?

On behalf of ELNet & EUPL & with thanks 2 ACE & ELIT I’ll c u 4 ELN @BL! LoL RGx

14 March 2014

A Marvel in the British Library Bulgarian Collections

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 Gospel of St Mark
Headpiece of the Gospel of St Mark from the Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander. In the red roundel a portrait of St Mark shown copying the Gospel surrounded by the young Christ (above), John the Baptist (left) and Isaiah (right). The design of all headpieces in the Gospels follows a circular pattern on a decorative floriated background.

A famous Bulgarian manuscript, the Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander (British Library Additional. MS. 39627) will be celebrated once again at a forthcoming seminar in the British Library. The manuscript will be discussed in the context of our shared European cultural heritage and as the cornerstone of literary and cultural developments in the Balkans. The Balkan Day seminar is at the British Library on 13 June 2014.

The Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander – in Bulgarian Четвероевангелието на Цар Иван Александър, and also known in Bulgaria as the ‘London Gospel’ (Лондоското Евангелие на Цар Иван Александър) – is a manuscript of great importance and generally referred to as a masterpiece of Bulgarian, Slavonic and Byzantine medieval art. In Bulgaria the Gospels are celebrated as a national treasure and often seen as an important cultural link between Britain and Bulgaria.

During the rule of Tsar Ivan Alexander (1331-71), the Bulgarian medieval state was already past its height, but this period was marked by cultural revival before the country was finally subdued by the Ottoman Turks in 1396. The Gospels were made for the Tsar in 1355/56 at Tŭrnovo, the centre of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185–1396).

After the Ottoman conquest of Bulgaria, the manuscript was taken to safety first to Moldavia and afterwards to the monastery of St Paul on Mount Athos in Greece. Here the manuscript was presented to the Hon. Robert Curzon, fourteenth Baron Zouche of Harringworth (1810–1873), a traveller and collector of manuscripts. The manuscript was bequeathed to the British Museum Library (now the British Library) in 1917.

St Mark presenting his Gospel
 At the beginning or the end of each Gospel in this codex is an image of the Evangelist presenting his manuscript to Tsar Ivan Alexander. Here is an image of St Mark presenting his Gospel to Tsar Ivan Alexander. Depicted above is a scene from the Ascension of Christ. (Add.MS.39627 f.134v)

The Gospels were displayed and celebrated as an outstanding artistic treasure in at least nine major national and international exhibitions in five cities (Sofia in 1977 and 1996; London in 1977/78, 1994, 2007 and 2008/09; Liverpool 1989; Athens 2002 and New York 2004). They have also exhibited in the British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery  several times, most recently in 2007 to celebrate the entry of Bulgaria into the EU and in 2012/13 to promote the publication of a full digital version of the Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander, which is available on the British Library Digitised Manuscripts website .  

The Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander are written in Bulgarian Church Slavonic and were the work of a single scribe. The first pages of each Gospel display his calligraphic skills in ornamented initials, titles in gold and formal uncial letters in black:

Gospel of St Luke
Headpiece of the Gospel of Luke. In the vertical arrangement a roundel portrait of St Luke is in the centre. A bearded Christ (above) and Zachariah (below) are depicted in two smaller roundels. Add.MS.39627 f.137r

The Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander have been a subject of scholarly interest ever since they were deposited on permanent loan to the British Museum Library in 1876.  Since then a number of studies and catalogue entries have been written about the manuscript. In the 2000s Bulgarian scholars from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the University of Sofia and The St. Cyril and Methodius National Library in Sofia thoroughly researched the Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander with the aim of providing a detailed codicological description of the codex.

The British Library holds over 70 Slavonic and East European Cyrillic medieval and early modern manuscripts (Russian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Macedonian, and Bosnian); some of them are of very fine workmanship. The Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander constitute the first digitised manuscript in this collection.

 Gospel of St John
Headpiece of the Gospel of  John with a portrait of St John minutely  executed in a red roundel and three smaller roundels below depicting the Holy Trinity. Add.MS.39627 f.213r

For more images and description of the Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander see the British Library Medieval manuscripts blog post  of 17 September 2012.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

References:

Ralph A. Cleminson, Union catalogue of Cyrillic manuscripts in British and Irish collections. The Anne Pennington catalogue. (London, 1988) 2725.e.600

Ekaterina Dimitrova, The Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander. (London, 1994) YC.1995.b.3420

Exhibition catalogues:

Slavi︠a︡nski rŭkopisi ot Britanskii︠a︡ muzeĭ i biblioteka = Slavonic manuscripts from the British Museum and Library. (Sofia, [1977]) 2719.e.11

Byzantium: treasures of Byzantine art and culture from British collections. (London, 1994) YC.1995.b.5285

Byzantium: faith and power (1261-1557). Edited by Helen C. Evans. (New York, 2004) LC.31.b.1397

Sacred: books of the three faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. (London, 2007) YC.2008.a.6318

Byzantium, 330-1453. (London, 2008) LC.31.b.5843