@Dumbarton Oaks

Collection PH.BZ.005 - Illuminated Manuscript Photographs Collection, ca. 1950

Identity area

Reference code



Illuminated Manuscript Photographs Collection, ca. 1950


  • ca. 1950 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

35 boxes
Approximately 10,000 black and white photographs of manuscript illuminations

Context area

Name of creator

Dumbarton Oaks (1940-Present)

Administrative history

Robert and Mildred Bliss retired to their Georgetown home, Dumbarton Oaks, in 1933. They began adding to their already extensive collection of artwork and reference books, anticipating the creation of a research institute. In 1940, the Blisses gave their property to Harvard University, creating Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

"Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection is an institute in Washington, DC, administered by the Trustees for Harvard University. It supports research and learning internationally in Byzantine, Garden and Landscape, and Pre-Columbian studies through fellowships and internships, meetings, and exhibitions. Located in residential Georgetown, Dumbarton Oaks welcomes researchers at all career stages who come to study its books, objects, images, and documents. It opens its doors to the public to visit its historic Gardens, designed by Beatrix Farrand; its Museum, with world-class collections of art; and its Music Room, for lectures and concerts. The institute disseminates knowledge through its own publications (such as Dumbarton Oaks Papers and symposium volumes) as well as through the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (published by Harvard University Press). Dumbarton Oaks also makes accessible ever more of its resources freely online." -http://www.doaks.org/about

Among its many other activities, in January of 1963, Dumbarton Oaks and the trustees of Harvard University assumed all fieldwork activities formerly initiated by the Byzantine Institute. The Dumbarton Oaks fieldwork committee directed and sponsored new fieldwork projects in Turkey (Church of St. Polyeuktos), Cyprus (Church of the Panagia Amasgou at Monagri), Syria (Dibsi Faraj), and present-day Macedonia (Bargala).

Name of creator

Der Nersessian, Arax Iskouhi (1894-(between 1981-1989))

Biographical history

Arax Der Nersessian was the older sister of Armeno-Byzantine art historian Sirarpie Der Nersessian. Like her sister, Arax Der Nersessian was raised and educated amongst an elite Armenian community in early twentieth-century Constantinople, orphaned as a teenager, and forced to flee to Western Europe during the persecutions against Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

She was considered artistically gifted and attended the École des Beaux-Arts and the Conservatoire de Musique in Geneva, where the sisters first settled after leaving Turkey. In 1919 the two moved to Paris where Arax Der Nersessian married her long-time fiancé and distant cousin, architect Zareh Der Nersessian. Separated during the war years, the sisters were reunited in 1947 when Arax moved to Washington DC to live with Sirarpie Der Nersessian after being widowed.

Arax Der Nersessian often served as Sirarpie Der Nersessian’s research assistant, helping with the catalog for the Chester Beatty collection (1958) and on her sister’s 1951-1952 sabbatical to Jerusalem to study the manuscripts of the Armenian Patriarchate, for which Arax Der Nersessian is credited with photographing the manuscripts and making an inventory of the over 2,500 images, which Sirarpie Der Nersessian then contributed to the Dumbarton Oaks’ photograph collection.

Arax Der Nersessian returned to Paris with her sister in 1963 upon Sirarpie Der Nersessian’s retirement from Dumbarton Oaks, where she lived until her death following a long and painful illness, sometime between 1981 and 1989. She is considered to have been Sirarpie Der Nersessian’s closest friend and companion throughout both of their lives.

Name of creator

Library of Congress (1800-present)

Administrative history

The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections.

The Library's mission is to support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Photographs of manuscripts held by the Greek and Armenian Patriarchates in Jerusalem, Mount Athos and St. Catherine's in the Sinai Peninsula were acquired from the Library of Congress following documentation projects in 1949-1950 and 1952-1953.

The majority of the photographs of illuminations from the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem along with images from Aleppo, Antilias and Istanbul were taken by Arax Der Nersessian, sister of Armeno-Byzantine art historian, Sirarpie Der Nersessian, during the latter's 1951-1952 sabbatical.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

This collection gathers together photographs of Byzantine and Armenian manuscript illuminations photographed by the Library of Congress, scholars, museums and other photo archives. A significant portion of the collection reflects the research of Armeno-Byzantine art historian, Sirarpie Der Nersessian.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Photographs are arranged by the location of where the manuscript is held: organized first by city, then repository, then by manuscript and folio number.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Access to the collection is unrestricted. It is available for research purposes. Appointment is required for access because researcher space is limited: http://www.doaks.org/icfa-appointment-request-form. For research queries, contact the staff of Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (icfa@doaks.org).

Conditions governing reproduction

Photographs are for research and study purposes only.

Language of material

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

At Dumbarton Oaks:

Publication note

Kenneth Willis Clark. Checklist of Manuscripts in the St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai: Microfilmed for the Library of Congress, 1950. Washington: Library of Congress, 1952.

Kenneth Willis Clark. Checklist of Manuscripts in the Libraries of the Greek and Armenian Patriarchates in Jerusalem: Microfilmed for the Library of Congress, 1949-1950. Washington: Library of Congress, 1953.

Ernest W. Saunders. A Descriptive Checklist of Selected Manuscripts in the Monasteries of Mount Athos: Microfilmed for the Library of Congress and the International Greek New Testament Project, 1952-1953. Washington: Library of Congress, 1957.

Notes area

Access points

Name access points

Description control area

Description identifier


Institution identifier


Rules and/or conventions used

Describing Archives: A Content Standard



Level of detail


  • English



ICFA curatorial files: photograph collection accession records

Rights area

Related right





Start date

End date

Rights holder

Rights note(s)

Preferred Citation: Illuminated Manuscript Photographs Study Collection, ca. 1950, PH.BZ.005, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.



Related right





Start date

End date

Rights holder

Rights note(s)

Photographs are for research and study purposes only.



Copyright status

Under copyright

Copyright status date

Copyright jurisdiction

Copyright note

Digital object metadata



Media type





627.9 KiB


October 21, 2016 1:25 PM

Digital object (Master) rights area

Digital object (Reference) rights area

Digital object (Thumbnail) rights area

Accession area