History (Art and Culture)
art has been profoundly influenced by Armenian culture, Armenia's long
history, ever-changing geography and unique mountainous landscape.
of the most important periods of Armenian art was that from the ninth to
the sixth centuries BC. Armenia was, at this point in history, the Kingdom
of Van or Urartu. Citadels, temples, irrigation canals, carved stone seals,
glass, ceramics, jewelry and arms were characteristic of Urartu's artistic
endeavors. The Urartians were major producers of bronze objects. Excavation
at the Urartian site of Karmir-Blur, begun in 1939 and continuing even
today has resulted in the discovery of many household utensils, furniture
decorations and pieces of military equipment such as helmets, arrows and
shields fashioned out of bronze.
Urartian smiths were also very skilled
in the use of silver and gold. Vases, medallions and amulets were fashioned
from silver while gold was used to create articles of jewelry. The smiths
of this time are best remembered for their skill in decorating metal with
mythological and animal forms.
The intrinsic value of these metals
made them prime targets for invaders who periodically looted the country.
For this reason, metalwork of other periods cannot be documented as well.
the 4th and 5th centuries AD very important events in Armenian history
greatly affected the arts. As Armenia became the first nation to adopt
Christianity as its official religion in 301-303 AD, Christian iconography
came to play a very important role in Armenian art and architecture. Also,
after the creation of the Armenian alphabet in 405-406 AD by Mesrop Mashtotz,
the written word helped to developed the Armenian language, literature
and arts. The Bible was able to be translated into Armenian, thus increasing
the importance of Christianity in Armenian art. The written word also allowed
for the development of the art of the illuminated manuscript. Armenian
scribes began to copy and translate Christian texts onto parchment adding
to them symbolic illustrations and introductory folios. These manuscripts
were then used in religious services.
Churches soon became the main mode
of Armenian architectural expression. The seventh century is often referred
to as the "golden age of Armenian ecclesiastical architecture." A great
many cathedrals and monuments with interior frescoes and stone carvings
pertaining to the Biblical stories were constructed. In the 10th century,
for instance, the Church of the Holy Cross was erected on Aghtamar Island
with exterior sculpture and relieves of Biblical subjects and interior
frescoes of the like. The Aghtamar frescoes are the only surviving example
of medieval Armenian murals still including the full repertoire of motifs
traditional in church interiors of the time.
founded in the 10th century, grew as important artistic centers. Illuminated
manuscripts, a major component of Armenian art history, were created and
assembled into books here. Today, the largest collection of these can be
found in Yerevan's famed Matenadaran. These manuscripts came to be known
for their festive grandeur, demonstrating a continuity that links Armenia's
Middle Ages with her earlier periods. The twelfth to fourteenth centuries
witnessed the development of manuscript illumination into the art of book
illustration. Manuscripts became smaller, no longer for use in religious
services. These more elaborately designed and varied works were now for
private use in the libraries of monasteries and homes.
These monasteries also provided for
the production of khatchkars (literally, "cross stones"), constructions
unparalleled in the world of art. These carved stones were most commonly
used as gravestones as well as to mark victories, foundations of villages,
the completion of a church and the like. For all their diversity, the basic
khatchkar design was always the same, the Cross being the central object
often surrounded by elaborate ornamentation. These carvings attained artistic
excellence in the ninth to eleventh centuries. They were originally created
as an assertion of faith in Christ; and popular belief attributed to these
monuments' powers of protection against earthquakes, droughts and the like.
The study of khatchkars and illuminated manuscripts reveals the devotion
of Armenian artists to ornament, almost unique in Christian culture. Khatchkars
can be seen throughout Armenia even today.
the 16th century, changes in social and political life resulted in the
dramatic alteration of Armenian culture and art. At this time, Armenia
lost her independence and was divided between the empires of Turkey and
Persia for the next 250 years. Armenian architecture and related arts virtually
disappeared during this period. Armenian monasteries, churches and schools
were built only outside of Armenia. Slowly, the traditional art of manuscript
illumination gave way to printing. This new method of making and copying
text was first introduced in Armenia in the year 1512. It was in the year
1666 that the Bible was printed in Armenian by the cleric Father Voskan
From the sixteenth to eighteenth
centuries, the orientation of art turned increasingly to that of everyday
life. The minor arts such as carpet and lace-making developed into well-known
crafts. These arts were inspired by sculpture, architecture, and painting
. The creative impulse is quite evident in the surviving examples of metalwork
of earlier centuries, in the carved doors of monasteries and in the fine
collections of Armenian carpets found in the museums of Yerevan. Lace adorned
the homes and costumes of Armenian women. These women also donated their
lacework for the adornment of church altars and the costumes of the clergy.
The best known Armenian embroidery
, made in the city of Marash, is noted for its rich and cheerful colors
and its satin stitch. Common in the designs of Marash embroidery are flowers
and tiny animals, particularly the rooster.
art of carpet-making has existed in Armenia since the fifth century BC.
But, perhaps the most noteworthy period of Armenian rug weaving is that
of the thirteenth century. The great "dragon" rugs showing indigenous designs
resembling highly stylized dragons woven into a latticework of plant and
animal forms were created during this period. They are among the most original
and abstract creations in textiles.
Early in the nineteenth century when
the sultans of Turkey wanted to establish rug weaving around Constantinople,
it was the Armenian master weavers whom they called upon to do so.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Kutahia
(now in Turkey) became a pottery and ceramics Center. Art experts have
contributed the entire output of this area to Armenian potters. This attribution
is confirmed by Armenian inscriptions found on the works, the characteristic
representation of saints on the pieces and the treatment of ceramic tiles
both purely decorative and religious. These wares were apparently commissioned
by Armenian churches and individuals and played an important part both
in everyday life and as architectural decoration.