Treasures of St. Etchmiadzin
By Prof. Mania Khazaryan
time immemorial the Armenian people have created cultural artifacts of
lasting value embodying popular artistic concepts. These objects reveal
the innate talents of anonymous masters, as well as their sense of beauty.
This cultural heritage is anchored on a coherent national base, and the
functional value of the objects themselves is always integrated with the
esthetic philosophy of the people.
ancient times, Armenian artifacts have been created, not only in Armenia
itself, but also in many other parts of the world. Arts and crafts have
always occupied a prominent place in Armenian life. Wars, deportations,
the collapse of various Armenian states frequently disrupted the development
of Armenian arts and crafts. Despite such reversals, under new conditions
and often in new locations, Armenian artists and artisans continued to
create works endowed with new qualities and shapes, which nevertheless
were based on principles of the traditional national art.
At different periods in history,
cities such as Ani (the bustling capital of medieval Armenia), Dvin (the
"grand capital"), the cities of the Cilician Kingdom and Vaspurakan, Garin,
Erzinga, Sebastia, Gesaria (Caesaria), Kemakh, Evtogia, Marash, Aintab,
Madras, New Julfa, Constantinople and others within Anatolia were centers
of Armenian craft production. The creations of Armenian artisans found
their way into European and Eastern markets via the great trade routes.
The ornamental use of these articles in royal courts set standards of beauty
and became a mark of wealth.
the centuries, visitors and pilgrims to Holy Etchmiadzin who sought the
salvation of their souls, or to commemorate love ones, donated beautiful,
appropriately inscribed artifacts to the Mother See. Numerous such objects
arrived at Holy Etchmiadzin during deportations and massacres. After finding
refuge at the monastery, many of the exiles delivered to the Holy See relics
rescued at the expense of their untold sufferings. The collection of art
objects at the Mother See has also been enriched through donations received
by the various Catholicoses and other members of the Brotherhood. Acquired
over the centuries, these objects are preserved in the old and new Catholical
residential buildings and in the museum of the Mother Cathedral.
Recently, a new museum known as the
Alex and Marie Manoogian Treasury has been added to the aforementioned;
it was officially dedicated on October I 1 , 1982. The Manoogian Treasury
occupies a very special place among museums that display Armenian artifacts.
The Treasury building (B. Arzumanian, architect), with its colonnaded hall
and portico, blends in with the architectural style of the rest of the
complex, and especially with the new Catholical palace. It is specially
designed as a museum structure, and is equipped with a unique lighting
system and spacious galleries.
Displayed there are representative
examples of Armenian art objects, paintings, manuscripts and ancient coins.
Prominent among these are religious objects such as gold and silver-encased
relics, chalices, crosses, staffs, fans, reliquaries, communion pyxes,
censers, processional banners, carpets, embroidered drapes and vestments.
All these have esthetically significant designs and express specific features
of Armenian national culture.
are presented in the established classical forms. The most prominent among
these is the "Holy Cross of Khotakerats" commissioned by Prince Eatchi
Proshian in the year 1300, which is significant not only because of its
age but also for its artistic embellishments and delicate engravings. Equally
delicate decorations are found on the chalices and the reliquaries which
are sometimes studded with precious gems. Gems add a unique richness to
the art on crosses, manuscript covers and stafls. All of these were created
in centers of the Armenian goldsmith's art, such as Sis, Adana, Vaspurakan
(especially Van and Ardzgh), Constantinople, Smyrna, Garin, Gesaria, Yerevan,
Tiflis and New Julfa. The Garin tradition was later carried on by the masters
who moved to Akhaltzkha (presently in Soviet Georgia) during the nineteenth
century. Armenian goldsmiths were masters of the techiniques of engraving,
shaping, meshing, threading and granulation. Belt buckles made at the same
centers are predominantly in silver, sometimes gilded and adorned with
Armenian, Greek, Roman, Parthian,
Iranian, Byzantine, and other gold, silver and copper ancient coins, exhibited
of the first floor of the museum, testify to the wide scope of international
ties maintained by the Mother See throughout history.
Among the most beautiful artifacts
displayed are the embroideries. These consist basically of delicate and
exquisite patterns, peculiar to the art of Armenian needlework.
religious vestments, such as chasubles, palliums, stoles, mitres, infulae,
amices and cuffs, have embroideries depicting dominical scenes such as
the pictures of the Mother of God, Christ, the evangelists, the apostles
and saints. The judicious selection of colorful threads, the gold and silver
additions, the hues of precious and semiprecious gems, and the strings
of beautiful pearls elevate these works to the level of true art. The inscriptions
embroidered upon them indicate that they were crafted both in Armenia and
the Armenian communities of the Diaspora (such as Marash, Aintab, Sunik,
Cilicia, Cappadocia, Astrakhan, Constantinople, and others).
The processional banner of St. Gregory
the Illuminator, dating from 1448, is prominently displayed in the Treasury,
and is a masterpiece of Armenian embroidery. The banner, which depicts
the first Catholicos, as well as King Trdat, and St. Hripsime, is an exquisite
sample of creative portraiture.
Among the woven artifacts, the curtains
are especially noteworthy. Prominent among them is a main-altar curtain
designed by Grigor Marzvanetsi, the famous publisher-painter from Constantinople.
Begun in 1705 and completed in 1714, this is one of the important decorative
items of the Treasury. The so-called "eagle rugs" are of great artistic
value. A salient example of this category is the embroidered eagle rug
of Catholicos Philipos (1751).
Each of these art objects has its
specific style, embellishments and canonical form, developed over the centuries.
Yet the crosses on chasubles, the portraits of evangelists embroidered
on palliums, the dominical scenes on mitres are also the results of the
unique artistic talents and vivid imagination of the creative masters.
Embroideries executed by anonymous talents in convents and orphanages are
also represented among the artifacts in the Treasury. The superb samples
of im printed curtains are of special value. Worldrenowned Armenian rugs
and runners of Karabagh, woven during the eighteenth century, are also
miniature art attained its glorious culmination during the sixteenth century;
thereafter it was replaced by the new art forms, particularly painting,
which developed under European influences. The Treasury also features a
valuable collection of illuminated manuscripts, bearing popular and classical
motifs, originating from dif ferent periods and regions.
The Holy See of Etchmiadzin has sponsored
Armenian artists throughout the centuries. Naghash Hovnatan; his sons Hakob
and Harutune; his grandson Hovnatan Hovnatanian; the latter's son Mkrtum
and grandson Hakob were among these artists, as were many other anonymous
masters. Hovnatan Hovnatanian (1730-1801) distinguished himself by remodeling
and embellishing the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin (1765-1786). His portraits
of historic figures and his thematic paintings add a special luster to
the Treasury. Hovnatan Hovnatanian founded yet another distinctive artistic
tradition in Armenia.