Ivan the Terrible’s Own Gift Book
The last known owner of the Library of Gold, once the heart of the fabled Byzantine royal collection, was Ivan the Terrible. “Historians know about the existence of the library because Ivan the Terrible instructed scribes to translate the books into Russian,” says an article in The Times of London. “According to legend, the library once filled three halls and was so valued by Ivan the Terrible that he built a vault to protect them from the fires that regularly swept Moscow.”
After reading his will in the morning and calling for his chess set in the afternoon, Ivan died in 1584. His will, which might have listed his library, mysteriously vanished. Since then scholars and amateurs, dictators and kings, have searched doggedly but without success for the full collection. It is one of the world’s great mysteries.
Still, below is a photograph of one of Ivan’s surviving gold-covered volumes – a Gospel donated by Ivan the Terrible in 1571 to the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow. One of the greatest examples of sixteenth-century Russian decorative art, the illuminated manuscript is studded with precious stones and marked by enamels on a filigree ground. The wreathed inscriptions are linked in nielloed gold. In the center, Christ is risen, and at each corner are saints studying or praying.