Visual arts

While fragments of mosaic work have been found in churches and excavations in Armenia, one of the best examples is that excavated near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem in the late nineteenth century. Although the most central imagery, that of a vine-scroll issuing from an amphora with peacocks on either side, and birds and animals with the scrolls, is common to sixth-century Judaeo-Christian mosaics in Palestine, the inscription marks out the mosaic as Armenian, reading as it does: 'To the memory and the salvation of all Armenians, whose names are known only to God'.

Armenian churches were decorated with wall-paintings, which have mostly only been preserved in a fragmentary state. The church at Aght'amar contains remains of a Genesis cycle in the drum of the dome, derived from early Christian models, and a New Testament cycle in the main body of the church, with Apostle figures remaining in the lower part of the apse.

Illustrated manuscripts have always been a treasured part of Armenian life and faith. Several kinds of religious books were illustrated, especially Gospel books, but also Bibles, lectionaries, prayer books, books of saints' lives. Secular books, including the Romance of Alexander and historical texts, can be added to the list. Dedicatory inscriptions and colophons, as well as additional notes give valuable information about the circumstances of the commissioning, production and subsequent history and ownership of Armenian manuscripts. Today, as a result of the wide Armenian diaspora, manuscripts are held in collections all over the world, including Erevan (the Matenadaran Library), Jerusalem (Armenian Patriarchate), Venice (Library of the Mekhitarist Fathers), the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, Topkapi Saray Library in Istanbul, Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection in Lisbon, the British Library, and the John Rylands Library in Manchester, as well as other collections.

The development of the Armenian language after the invention of the Armenian alphabet around 406 saw the translation into Armenian of the Bible, from Greek and Syriac books brought from Constantinople and the other major cities of the Christian East. Some books epitomize the rich overlaying of culture. The sixth-century ivory book covers of the Armenian Ejmiadsin Gospels (Erevan, Matenadaran 2374) are in fact Byzantine works of art, having scenes of Christ in Majesty and the Virgin and Child, with crosses in wreaths borne by angels above. The sixth- or seventh-century full-page illustrations of the book itself were added at the end of the manuscript, which is itself dated to 989. They depict the Announcement to Zacharia, the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ. An early eleventh-century Gospel manuscript also in Ereven (Matenadaran 10780), the so-called Vehap'ar Gospels, follows the frequent layout of canon tables and prefatory miniatures, in this case the Hospitality of Abraham and a donor portrait, and thereafter sixty-four illustrations as a 'running narrative' set. The illustrations link the manuscript with those made in Melitene in the early eleventh century, and have been shown to have affiliations with Syriac manuscript illumination. Particularly interesting is the miniature with the Hospitality of Abraham, with its depiction of the godhead as the Trinity of three individuals in one. These are the three angels who sit at Abraham's table attended by Abraham and his wife Sarah, according to Genesis 18: 1-15, imagery that is found in early Byzantine art from the sixth century, although infrequently. It would be wrong, however, to underestimate the inventiveness of Armenian writers and artists in adapting iconography or to invent new themes for new purposes.

An example of a uniquely Armenian text is the Book of Lamentations written in 1102 by Gregory, a monk of the Monastery of Narek, at Lake Van. It comprises ninety-five spiritual, elegiac, poems in which Gregory converses with God. The earliest dated copy of this text, on vellum, is in the Matenadaran Library in Erevan; it was made by a named scribe (Grigor Mlichetsi) in 1173 for Archbishop Nerses of Lambron, undoubtedly in Skevra, the archbishop's seat. The manuscript also contains a biography of St Gregory by the archbishop. At the front of it are four portraits of Gregory of Narek. The last of these shows Gregory prostrate before Christ, who is seated under a canopy, holding the book and with his hand held out in reception and blessing. A tree in flower on the left completes the scene.

In the scriptoria of the kingdom of Cilicia, ruled by the Rubenid and Het'umid princely families during the late twelfth to fourteenth centuries, manuscript illumination reached its creative apogee. Centred on the former Byzantine domain south of the Taurus, on the Mediterranean coast, it opened up artists to contacts and influences from the Italian city-states as well as the areas established by crusaders. A period of sustained development can be seen, under the patronage of the ruling families. A richer colour range than that employed by Byzantine miniaturists was possible, owing to the greater use of the more durable mineral pigments, as opposed to organic pigments. As was the case in Greater Armenia, Gospel books were illustrated more often than any other category.

The most famous Armenian artist is T'oros Roslin, the master of the patriarchal scriptorium in Hromkla in the third quarter of the thirteenth century (the patriarchal see had been transferred here in 1151). Seven manuscripts illustrated, and sometimes transcribed, by him between 1256 and 1268 have been preserved. While he continued some of the conventions established by his predecessors his imagination and inventiveness are evident in his use of a wider range of narrative iconography, stimulated in part by his knowledge of western art. His painting style shows fluidity in depicting figures and draperies. One of his masterpieces is the Gospel book in the Walters Art Gallery in Baltmore (W. 539) of 1262, made of vellum. The Last Judgement on fol. 109v (Figure 19.6) illustrates how T'oros Roslin enlivens the theme while retaining a monumental composition. Christ is seated in the centre at the top of the scene, his hands outstretched to the Virgin and St John; this is the Deesis image, indicated earlier. On either side angels hail the scene with trumpets while others bear the skies in the form of furled scrolls, according to the text of Isaiah 34: 4. The Apostles are seated in the row below, on either side of the cross, with the Foolish Virgins in the left margin, literally excluded from paradise, which is beyond the closed door to the left. The two lowest rows divide the saved on the viewer's left from the damned on the right, with Adam and Eve in the central pivotal position, above a cherubim.

The greater recognition of the artist in Cilicia is apparent in the fourteenth century. A Gospel book, also of vellum, in the Chester Beatty library in Dublin (Nr. 614) was written in 1342 at the Monastery of Drazark in Cilicia for the priest Tiratur. It has (fol.

13v) a portrait of Christ with the donor on his left side and scribe on his right, depicted as an elderly man. Another major Armenian book, this time an early fourteenth-century one, is the Glazor Gospel book, now in the Library of UCLA (Armenian MS no. 1). It is dedicated to the abbot of Glazor in the province of Siwnik, a key figure in the defence of Orthodox (Miaphysite) Armenian culture against the inroads of Roman Catholicism in particular. It was produced by two scribes and five artists, working first in one of the provincial centres of Orbelian influence and then at Glazor, the monastery of the Proshian family, where the manuscript was completed. It has been argued that it is through the contemporary exegetical work at the monastery, through its defence of the faith and the preservation of Armenian traditions and liturgy, that the iconography of the manuscript's scenes can be interpreted. For example, the miniature of the Crucifixion shows two streams issuing from Christ's side, of blood and of water. This is interpreted as the refutation of, in this case, the Greek insistence of mixing water with the eucharistic wine.

Manuscripts produced in Greater Armenia and, particularly Cilicia, remained a benchmark for Armenians. Later, a fertile period in Armenian cultural history was made possible by the wealth of Armenian merchants living in New Julfa, a suburb of Isfahan in the seventeenth century, who had been moved there by Shah Abbas at the beginning of the century. There are several examples of earlier manuscripts being acquired and restored and in turn providing the inspiration for seventeenth-century illuminators. One example is the portrait of St John in a Gospel book produced in 1628, which is derived from the Glazor Gospel book just discussed. Constantinople and the Crimea were other centres that continued the traditions of the past at this time. One example is the restoration in the Crimea in 1621 of the covers of the Gospels of Catholicos Kostandin I Bardzraberdtsi (Erevan, Matenadaran, In. Nr. 7690). This book, written in Hromkla in 1249, was bound in silver gilt covers some time after 1255. The front cover depicts the Deesis, the back the four Evangelists.

Armenian metalworkers also produced liturgical objects such as censers and pyxes. Reliquaries were also produced, such as that of the Holy Cross of Khotakerats' of 1300, now in the Museum of the Catholicate at Ejmiadsin, which was made in Siunik' of silver gilt and inlaid with precious stones. When closed, the reliquary shows Christ Pantocra-tor at the top, his scroll inscribed with the words 'I am the Light of the World', and it has St Gregory the Illuminator (who also appears on a reliquary of 1293 from the Monastery of Skevra) and St John the Baptist on the doors. The Virgin and St John the Evangelist on the frames on either side recall their positions at the Crucifixion. The praying figure of the donor, Prince Eatchi of the Proshian famly is flanked by St Peter and St Paul, all three in bust-form. The doors open to reveal a jewelled cross surrounded with palmette scrolls and two seated harts below, symbolizing the longing of the human soul for God, according to Psalm 41: 1-20. The archangels Michael and Gabriel complete the programme on the inner sides of the door leaves.

Luxury goods were made in textiles, wood, and ceramic. The eleventh-century Gospel of King Gagik of Kars (Jerusalem, Armenian Patriarchate no. 2556) includes a royal portrait, added to the manuscript, in which the king is shown seated with his wife and daughter. The royal family wear rich garments, woven with medallions and decorated roundels, and they sit on sumptuous floor coverings. Examples of preserved

Armenian textiles range from the silk bindings of manuscripts to the rich silk embroidery of eighteenth-century altar curtains, mitres, and altar frontals. There was particular interest in the late twentieth century in the manufacture of carpets by Armenians - carpets that were mentioned by Arab historians in the seventh and eighth centuries. In them a rich repertoire of real and imaginary animals, including dragons, eagles and serpents, alongside ornamental motifs, was created.

Another area of production is woodwork, especially that of church doors, lecterns, and even capitals, such as those from Sevan. Work in wood between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries is best represented by the carved relief of the Descent from the Cross, given by Gregory Magistros to the Monastery of Havuts T'ar in 1031, which emphasizes Christ's triumph over death. Christ is being crucified on the jewelled cross of Golgotha, his arm[s] leaning on the figure of Joseph of Arimathea while Nicodemus removes the nails.

Finally, ceramic goods have been found in excavations at Ani and Dvin. Examples of the use of ceramic objects in a religious context are found in the extensive collection of Kutahya work objects in the patriarchal collection of St James in Jerusalem, brought by pilgrims from Turkish Armenia. These include tiles, a blue and white ewer and bowl, pilgrim flasks and the collection of decorated ceramic hanging eggs which are suspended from lamp chains in the church.

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