Woven and Stamped Textiles
weaving and textile manufacture is universal. Nearly all cultures engaged
in this craft to satisfy need for clothes and coverings. Carbonized
fragments of woven textiles have been found in very early excavations in
Armenia, but they offer little information about the design and style of
early textiles. The fragility of cloth is the major cause for our lack
of early examples. The dry desert climate of Egypt or the frozen environment
of the Scythian tombs of Pasyryk lacking in Armenia offers the very rare
conditions by which early textiles have survived in quantity.
Our knowledge of pre-seventeenth
century woven textiles stems mainly from their representation in art, sculptured
reliefs such as those of Aght'amar and especially Armenian miniature painting,
but also from actual fragments preserved on the insides of the covers of
manuscript bindings. These textile fragments are made of various types
of cotton, silk, linen and other fabrics and have both woven and stamped
patterns. A large number of them are from cloth fashioned outside Armenia:
Iran, India, even Byzantium and the west. Because nearly every manuscript
up through the seventeenth century used such cloth pieces to hide the unattractive
exposed wood on the inside of bindings, there are thousands of these textile
samples preserved. Fewer than a hundred have been published. Once available,
they will serve as the major resource in reconstructing the history of
textiles used in Armenia from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries.
the late seventeenth and especially the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
there is preserved a comparatively large quantity of brocades, embroidery
and other textiles almost all used as church decor or priestly vestments.
The most important of these in size are the altar curtains, both stamped
and embroidered, preserved in the collections of the Catholicossate in
Etchmiadzin and the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem. Most of the eighteenth
century examples are rich in color and form and were produced in Madras,
India, a major center of stamped fabrics, where Armenians were well established.
These were made by stamping prepared cotton fabrics with carved wooden
blocks. This technique was also known in Armenia and used in earlier centuries,
but in the later times Madras seemed to control the market. Though these
large altar curtains had purely Armenian designs, often the life of St.
Gregory or the conversion of Armenian to Christianity, with long Armenian
inscriptional bands, they were probably manufactured by Indian workers
after designs supplied by Armenian artists.
Among printed or painted altar curtains,
other than those produced in Madras, several are of a particular splendor:
a stamped curtain from Souchava in Romania dated 1663 with a central motif
of the Crucifixion and an upper band devoted to the life of Christ (Etchmiadzin
Treasury); two others on dark blue cloth, probably made in Tokat, dated
1756 and the late eighteenth century with the Crucifixion as the most important
representation (Etchmiadzin Treasury); others from Karin-Erzerum, Tiflis,
Lim at Lake Van (felt appliqué), Constantinople (mostly embroidered),
and Europe. The Etchmiadzin collection has been the subject of a recent
unpublished thesis in Armenian and the Jerusalem collection of altar curtains
will soon be published.
Embroidery and Lace
embroidered Armenian textiles have survived in much greater number than
plain or printed fabrics. These embroideries are mostly church related:
clerical robes and accessories, altar curtains, chalice covers, and miscellany.
Among the vestments are miters, crowns, cope, stoles, collars, belts, sleeve
bands, chasubles, and slippers. Major collections with pieces dating from
the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries are kept in the monasteries
of Etchmiadzin, Jerusalem, the Mekhitarists in Venice and Vienna, Bzummar
in Lebanon and other lesser centers. Rich figural designs on silk, velvet,
satins and more modest materials are sewn in vivid colors, the most lavish
employ gold and silver thread, pearls and other precious and semi-precious
stones. The variety of designs and styles are as astounding as they are
beautiful. The perfection of execution, the rendering of figures, garments
and faces is as magnificent as the best embroidery work of any period and
The earliest surviving embroidery
is a large thirteenth century fragment from Ani showing asymmetrical lions.
The most famous embroidery is the ceremonial banner of 1448, still kept
at Etchmiadzin, with full-length portraits of Gregory the Illuminator flanked
by King Trdat and St. Hrip'simé, the major figures responsible for
the Armenia conversion to Christianity on one side and, on the other, Christ
enthroned with the symbols of the four Evangelists.
other outstanding embroideries one should note the following; the cope
of 1601 in the State Historical Museum, Erevan, showing Christ enthroned
with the Evangelists' symbols; a crown of 1651; a stole of 1736 and another
on blue ground of 1685; a series of shirt collars in the form of short
stoles dated 1734 all of embroidered silver and gold thread on a red ground,
the most elaborate of which depicts the Last Supper on the back and John
the Baptist, Gregory the Illuminator and St. Hakob on the front; embroidered
altar cloths of 1613 from Karin-Erzerum with St. Gregory, of 1619 from
Constantinople on a rich emerald colored ground with silver and gold thread
showing the Virgin being presented with the martyred head of St. James
(Hakob) with scenes from the Life of Christ in the borders (Jerusalem,
Armenian Patriarchate), of 1620 from Constantinople with a monumental scene
of the Last Supper bordered by Christological episodes (Jerusalem, Armenian
Patriarchate), of 1704-1714 from Constantinople with Christ, the Apostles,
St. Gregory and King Trdat, and of 1741 with St. Gregory's vision
of Holy Etchmiadzin; the so-called eagle carpet of Catholicos Philippos
dated 1651 using silver thread embroidery on silk; and the chalice cloth
of 1688 with a central floral motif on a yellow ground with crosses and
seraphim in the border. Except where noted, all the examples are in the
Treasury at Holy Etchmiadzin.
Embroidery was commonly used to decorate
towels, bags, stockings, kerchiefs, table clothes and various textiles.
Among the most famous was the work of Marash characterized by polychrome
geometric and floral designs on dark or colored backgrounds. The stitching
was done following various grid patterns, designs being built up from star,
cross and braided motifs. This embroidery work, whether of the luxurious
variety or the more modest type, was done in all Armenian families, often
during the isolation of the cold winter months. Many of the richly decorated
elements of clerical garb were votive offerings donated by the pious on
lace, called janyak or oya, is executed with a single needle and has an
extremely ancient history. Its technique was known by all women and passed
on from generation to generation. There are different styles and stitches
from the various regions of Armenian; among the best known are the Aintab
stitch, the Vaspurakan stitch, the Baghesh (Bitlis) stitch and the Kharpert
stitch. The delicacy and intricacy of Armenian lace have long been recognized
and in recent years specialized studies and exhibits have been devoted
to it. Early laces of silk and gold thread or decorated with pearls
and jewels were made into chalice covers, and cross and Gospel holders.
Lace borders were also often added to embroidered articles. Scarves and
kerchiefs were often fringed with a variety of miniature lace flowers.
Few pre-nineteenth century laces
have survived. The tradition, however, is very ancient in Armenia. Lace
making in Europe was a craft that arrived in the late middle ages from
Asia Minor. Many scholars believe that the origin of Venetian lace, one
of the oldest and most developed lace making centers, should be sought
in Armenia. The merchant cities of Italy were in close touch with Armenians
during those centuries, so there was ample opportunity to import laces
and the technique of making them.
Dr. Dickran Kouymjian
"The Arts of Armenia".
Copyright © Dr. Dickran Kouymjian
Foundation, Lisbon 1992
By Serig Tavtyan
Armenian women of both town and village have long since been familiar with
all the varieties of lacemaking, such as embroidery, crochet and bone-lace.
As distinct from European countries where lace was the luxury of the ruling
classes and the clergy, fancy-work formed in Armenia part of popular ornamentation.
from embroidery, lace was also wellknown, almost one thousand years B.C.
in Urartu, now known as historic Armenia.
As to ornamentation Armenian fancy-work
has much in common with other branches of decorative-applied art; namely,
carving on wood, stone and bone, as well as jewellery and weaving. A great
similarity is also to be found in the Armenian midiaeval colourful miniatures
that points to the continuity, through the ages, of the tradition of the
popular art of fancy-work.
The present work dwells mainly on
the Armenian lace of the l9th and the 20th centuries when many towns of
the Transcaucasus and Turkey, comprising Armenian communities, constituted
centres of lacemaking. The lace was unfailingly ornamenting the daily round;
it adorned the national costume and the headdress. After World war I the
Armenians, fleeing helter-skelter from Turkey, scattered over the world
at large to find refuge in Russia, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Bulgaria, Greece,
France and elsewhere. Bereft of their own property, the only thing they
could take to threir abodes was their industry and traditional skill in
folk and decorative-applied arts. European missionaries who followed the
fleeing Armenians, initiated in most areas carpet and lacemaking and embroidery,
and the manufactured goods were put on sale. Thus the Armenian lace won
wide recognition and survived. Though the Armenian women excel in various
ways of interlacing yet the most favourite is the needle lace embroidered
in bobbin, silk and at times, gold thread.
Armenian lace is made up of knots that are thread stitched. Lying one over
the other in rows, the knots and stitches form square, rhomboid and triangular
checkwork. The figured tissue is lace-bordered with protuberant double
patterns. The background and the patterns of the Armenian lace are wrought
The laces comprise ornaments of various
forms in whtich old and archaic patterns can be traced: signs of "the sun",
cross-shaped flower-starlets, rosettes, trees, birds and a whole set of
geometrical and stylized plant figures. Certain ornaments elaborated throughout
the centuries, are laconic in their expressiveness.
In large decorative one-colour adornments
such as caverlets and tablecloths, ornamental and pen-work belts alternate;
they ,are concentrically located around one flower or a group of flowers.
Some rhythmic and lighlty repeating ornament in the belt reminds us of
a popular circular dance. Rows of columns and bridges separate the belts
from one another. All of this taken together, forms one harmonious, peculiarly
colourful whole, distinct from the laces of other people. Other salient
features of Armenian lace are its lightness, airiness and elegance reminiscent
of a spider web or snow-flake. Laced flowers for head dress are none the
less singular and original. Lacecd with closer stitch, tiny triangular
checks and in motley threads, they remind us, with their bold relief on
frontal adornments and coverlets, of real flowers such as roses, pinks,
bluebells, buttercups, daffodils and others. Reduced in size, they are
somewhat stylized in colour. These laces are embroidered in gold and pearls.
Lacetrimmed "cocks" and fruit are also to be encauntered among the flawers.
Armenian lacemakers are proficient not only in their usage of past experience
but also in new pattern-making that is due to the new conditions of life
and the changes in its mode.
Of the many thousands of lacemakers
several women proved real artists who elaborated ingeniously the best national
patterns and wrought new specimens. Soghovme Jerbashian's name was popular
as the best representative of the Van school of embroidery and hand-made
lace; Aghapi Hairapetian and Mariam Injikian came from the Karin. school;
and Mariam Tootoonjian from the Cilician school. In our own days Anahid
Apamian and Vard Kocharian are well-famed. At present the youth takes to
lacing in pioneer organizations, at schools and in hobby groups.
The study of Armenian fancy-work
manifests the ethnographic, historical and artistic peculiarities of popular
creative skill. When we watch the lace the peripetias of the hard life
of Armenian refugees reel off before our view. Fancy-work reflects, like
a drop of water, many distinctive features of popular art. The Armenian
people has preserved the exquisitely colourful art of traditional lacemaking.
The sense of symmetry, equilibrium and elaborateness of patterns is prominent
in Armenian snow-white laces. A mild range of colour harmony, the fine
shades of which are typical of Armenian popular art as a whole redominate
in the many-coloured laces. The people retained its exquisite lace together
with its songs, dances and folklore through the hard years of its tragic