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Ceramics 

ottery may appear not to belong under painting; indeed, one could place it in a separate category. Nonetheless, most pottery, especially Armenian pottery in the Christian centuries, is decorated with painting. High quality burnished red ware was manufactured in Armenia already in the second millennium B.C.; some believe this type, known throughout the Near East, may have originated there. Excavations uncovered bowls and pots of various shapes. In the Urartian period, the quality and diversity of ceramics is notable. Skilled potters cleverly imitated metal vessels such as the famous shoe-shaped rhyton or drinking cup from Erebuni. 

Archaeology has failed to turn up any convincing examples of locally produced pottery for a period extending from the fall of the Urartian kingdom in the sixth century B.C. to the Middle Ages. The excavations at Dvin and Ani, Armenian capitals for long periods from the fifth to the eleventh centuries and inhabited even later, brought to light much very interesting pottery, some of which followed fashions prevalent in the region. For example, the yellow and green splash ware or the turquoise blue faience was produced in great quantity in neighboring Islamic countries as well as eastern Iran. Ceramics with figures of birds painted in light green on a white or light yellow ground copy a common Byzantine type found throughout the Middle East.  Many pots have, however, painted human, animal and hybrid motifs typically Armenian in style, and some even bear Armenian inscriptions. There is no doubt that from the eleventh to the thirteenth century the ceramics industry in Armenia, especially at Ani, was important and of high quality. 

Kütahya Ceramics

n the post-medieval period the Armenian ceramics industry flourished at one major center: Kütahya, a city in western Asia Minor 125 miles southeast of Constantinople. An Armenian colony is already noted there in the thirteenth century and in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there was an active scriptorium too. Armenian manufactured ceramics came to dominate the craft industry of the city. Certainly by the fifteenth century, Armenians were deeply engaged in ceramics. The earliest dated pieces, inscribed on the bottom in Armenian, are from the early sixteenth century. They are decorated in the characteristic blue and white of early Kütahya ware. By the seventeenth century a highly polychrome faience was fabricated with yellow, green and the famous Armenian tomato red. The potters produced vessels in a large variety of shapes for diverse use. 

The town became renowned as an Armenian ceramic center in the Ottoman Empire, and was the major competitor of Iznik, the famous source of most "Islamic" tiles and vessels of the Ottomans. The Kütahya potters also produced square tiles for wall decorations. These were used in a number of mosques, mostly in Constantinople, as well as in churches. The most spectacular display of Kütahya tiles is in Armenian Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem. Among the thousands decorating various parts of the monastic complex there is a special series of pictorial tiles with polychrome scenes of the Old and New Testament accompanied by an inscriptional band in Armenian. These were specially commissioned in the early eighteenth century for the renovation and decoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but due to a dispute between the various religion authorities that enjoyed custody over this holy shrine, the work was never carried out. Thus, these Kütahya tiles were used to embellish the Armenian Patriarchate. 

One of the most popular forms originating from the kilns at Kütahya was the egg-shaped ornaments hung on the chains from which oil lamps were suspended in churches and mosques. They may have had more than just an ornamental use; some experts considered them as barriers against mice who, attracted by the animal fat used in these lamps, would slide off the slick surface of the egg as they made their way down the chain to the vessel bearing the oil. Kütahya eggs are variously decorated, but the most common type displays seraphim, the famous six-winged guardian angels. Other popular shapes of these ceramics are the demi-tasse cups without handles, saucers, monogrammed plates, rose-water flasks, and lemon squeezers. Armenian inscriptions abound on Kütahya vessels, whether eggs or water jugs, flasks or incense burners. The Armenian ceramic industry in Kütahya flourished until the Armenians were forced to leave the city during the persecutions of World War I. Several families settled in Jerusalem, where they continue to produce the polychrome Kütahya style ceramics as souvenirs of the Holy Land. 

New Julfa, the Armenian suburb of Isfahan, founded in the first years of the seventeenth century, also was a center of Armenian tile production. Large pictorial panels made of square tiles painted in yellow and blue are found in situ in various Armenian churches of the city. The scene of the Presentation Magi in the Church of St. Gevorg dated by an Armenian inscription to 1719 is a fine example. 

Functional pottery continued to be made in Greater Armenian right up into the twentieth century. The ceramic craft is still practiced in Armenia with much skill.  During these modern centuries, many shapes known from the excavated pottery of Dvin and Ani continued to be fashioned in villages throughout the land, confirming the consistent tradition ceramic fabrication has always had. 

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Courtesy of  Dr. Dickran Kouymjian 
"The Arts of Armenia". Copyright  © Dr. Dickran Kouymjian 
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon 1992. 
Web site: www.csufresno.edu/ArmenianStudies

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Updated 30 August  1999 ..
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