The Georgian avant-garde / Georgia and Georgian in the UL : the June 2017 “Slavonic” item of the month

Among recent arrivals from Russia is a lovely book called Gruzinskii avangard (The Georgian avant-garde; S950.a.201.5351), produced to accompany an exhibition held at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum in Moscow.  This Russian-language catalogue is a valuable addition to our collections, giving insight into 20th-century art from a country not exhaustively represented in the Library.

The book contains articles about the Georgian avant-garde followed by 140 or so pages of beautiful reproductions and then a full catalogue listing of the 200+ items used in the exhibition (accompanied by thumbprint reproductions).  An English summary can be found at the end of the book.   As the pictures above hopefully show, the volume is punctuated by smaller pages in addition to its main pagination.  These provide further illustrative content.

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Examples of reproductions in the album section of the book.

The main subjects of the catalogue are named in the book’s subtitle as Pirosmani, Gudiashvili, and Kakabadze.  Their records in Grove Art Online have them as Pirosmanashvili, Gudiashvili (no change), and Kakabadze (ditto), and the Library of Congress name authority file has them as Pʻirosmanašvili, Gudiašvili, and Kakabaże – rather closer representations of their Georgian names as transliterated per the relevant LC romanisation table.  At the time of writing, the UL has five other books whose subject headings name Pirosmani specifically, three for Gudiashvili, and no others for Kakabadze.  In terms of Georgian art more generally, there are not many other books across Cambridge.  Here is a link to results in iDiscover for a subject search for the phrase “Art, Georgian (South Caucasian)”.

A section of the LC romanisation table for Georgian, featuring the older Khutsuri and modern Mkhedruli alphabets.

Georgian, the most widely spoken language in the Kartvelian language family, comes formally within the remit of the UL’s Near and Middle Eastern Department but responsibility for dealing with recent material in Georgian usually sits in practice with the Library’s Slavonic team (whose coverage of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is much wider than their name would suggest).  The University Library holds approximately 1,000 books published in Georgia, almost exclusively in Tbilisi, and 400-odd books in the Georgian language.  A detailed description of the Library’s modest manuscript holdings in Georgian can be read about in R. P. Blake’s ‘Catalogue of the Georgian manuscripts in the Cambridge University Library’ in the Harvard Theological Review 25 (1932); a paper copy is held in the Manuscripts Reading Room at A233.12.  As the first line of the review says, the UL’s Georgian manuscripts (which come chiefly from our Genizah collection) might more accurately be called “Georgian manuscript fragments”.

Very little modern material arrives nowadays in Georgian, but I was rather astonished to discover a modest backlog of Georgian books which have been awaiting cataloguing for decades.  They form part of a sizeable collection (several hundred titles) of material from the Caucasian and Central Asian Soviet republics which had apparently turned up in a 15-year window from the late 1970s to the early 1990s and stored away without the relevant language specialists being aware of their arrival.  With no UL expert confident with these languages, two factors bring these books to the door of the Slavonic team – for some languages, Cyrillic was the alphabet used at the time of publication; and for all, the reliable Russian-language colophon (or parallel title page) provides a useful start.  We look forward to having the time to devote to their cataloguing in due course.

Two examples relating to the Soviet-era Georgian backlog.  On the left, a receipt slip for an item received in 1980 after publication in 1979; on the right, the parallel title pages of a book published in 1955 but received in 1980 also.

Mel Bach

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