This fine silver binding for a small book is chased, enamelled and nielloed. The form and enamelling decoration is similar to silver Gospel covers in the Kalfayan Collection of Armenian art (see Hassiotis, 2010, p, 62) although the script on the covers here – on the spine in niello, and on the front in applied silver filigree – is in what is likely to be Georgian Mkhedruli script.
Mkhedruli script was used in Georgia for non-religious purposes (a different form of script was used for religious purposes) in the 18th and 19th centuries so although these covers look like they were intended to bind the Gospels or Bible, their purpose was secular.
Indeed, the covers were made to enclose Georgia’s most famous poem, the Vefkhis Tkaosani, by the Medieval Georgian writer Shota Rustaveli. The poem’s name appears on the spine, and the author’s name is on the cover, all in Georgian script.
Vefkhis Tkaosani or ‘The Knight in the Panther’s Skin’ is considered to be Georgia’s national epic poem, and Shota Rustaveli (c.1160-c.1220) is considered to be the pre-eminent poet of the Georgian Golden Age and one of the greatest contributors to Georgian literature.
Such covers are rare. Few such examples seem to have survived.
The main cover is decorated with a combination of chasing with remnants of gilding, niello work, and fine enamelling.
The spine is decorated in gilded chasing and niello. The other cover is in niello, which shows some leafy floral sprays within an oval cartouche surrounded by interlaced leafy scrolls.
The interior retains the original silver straps to allow the book that was being enclosed to be held by the covers.
The covers are in fine condition and are without loss, damage or repairs.
Hassiotis, I.K., et al., Aspects of Armenian Art: The Kalfayan Collection, Museum of Byzantine Culture, 2010.
pers. comm., Sylvestre Dupre and Tamta Dzneladze, June 2018.
Soltes, O. (ed.), National Treasures of Georgia, Philip Wilson Publishers, 1999.