The Prophets, Angels, & Churches of ‘Armenia!’ – New York Times review

11:17 • 19.11.18



By Gini Alhadeff

One small display in an exhibition can grab you by the collar. In the case of “Armenia!” at the Metropolitan Museum, it was the image of a spherical wide-eyed crab in a ridged armor swallowing Alexander the Great, along with his ship and retinue, set against a wavy sea that might have been drawn by a child. It is attributed to Zak‘ariay of Gnunik and appears in an illuminated manuscript of the Alexander Romance (1538–1544), the legends surrounding the exploits of Alexander the Great, much loved by Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Armenians alike. Dr. Helen Evans, the Met’s curator of Byzantine Art, told me, “That crab is too good not to be recognized as the type of art we don’t expect from East Christians.” And it most definitely wasn’t, she added, “the stiff art of the Byzantines that Vasari disapproved of.” Giorgio Vasari, the Italian architect, painter, and historian, author of Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1550) Western culture’s first art historian, who coined the use of the term “Renaissance,” unfairly saw in Byzantine abstractions, coming after Greek and Roman art, a decline in skills rather than an artistic choice.


The exhibition opened with the Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America blessing the occasion by singing, with two others, an allelujah in a voice that filled the galleries with the sound of Armenian liturgical chants. There are one hundred and forty objects in the show, including jewelry and reliquaries, as well as church models, illustrated manuscripts, and textiles for liturgical use—one fourteen-foot-long red and gold “omophorion” of interwoven square crosses is reminiscent of the Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich’s crosses on canvas and icons on paper. The objects on display range from the fourth to the seventeenth centuries and represent the different regions Armenians inhabited, from their homeland at the base of Mount Ararat, to the kingdom of Cilicia, and further East to New Julfa, in Iran. Armenia was one of the first states to adopt the Christian religion—as early as AD 301—and its history has been defined both by this, its status as an outpost of Eastern Orthodox religion surrounded by Muslim neighbors, and by its role in establishing trade routes from China and India to Western Europe, and from Egypt and the Holy Land to Russia.

 

armenia-bible


The exclamation mark following the word “Armenia” in the exhibition’s title—Evans’s idea—was meant to convey her surprise that Armenian art and culture aren’t studied more or better known. A champion of what she calls “this edge of Byzantium that is Armenian art and culture,” Evans has been wanting to assemble a show such as this one ever since she began researching her dissertation on Armenian manuscripts of the kingdom of Cilicia almost forty years ago. (She has also curated other Byzantine blockbusters at the Met: “The Glory of Byzantium” (1997), “Byzantium: Faith and Power” (2004), and “Byzantium and Islam” (2012).


At the center of the Met’s installation is a cross-like construction of intersecting walls onto which large color images of the churches of the Monastery of Sevan (ninth century or later) before a placid, mist-shrouded lake are projected. Armenian liturgical music plays in the background. Armenians had only a spoken language until an alphabet was created in 405 and was used in translations of the Bible and liturgy, which further reinforced the Christian religion in Armenia. The Armenian Apostolic Church has been seen as steward of Armenian national identity, and that explains why religious subjects have prevailed in Armenian art. Crosses—jewelled, painted, carved—are everywhere in this exhibition. Evans traveled to the Lori Province in northern Armenia to retrieve a massive one sculpted into basalt, a khachkar (from Lori Berd, of the twelfth–thirteenth centuries) that weighs 1,000 pounds. Khachkars—there are three in the show—are memorial cross stones used as Christian grave markers in medieval times, or to mark historical sites. At the foot of this one are bas-reliefs of the evangelists—a face that stands for Saint Matthew; a funny lion, more like a cat for Saint Mark; an ox head for Saint Luke; and the profile of an eagle for Saint John. All around the rectangular frame is a delicate wicker-weave motif of three cords intertwined remiscent of some Islamic ornamentation.


Sculpted miniature churches, sixteen to fifty inches high, used as ornaments over doorways and roofs, are among the most striking products of Armenian architecture on display. The Model of the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin, the capital of Armenia (Vagharshapat, fifth–seventh century), looks like a stocky missile made of stone, with a large arrow carved into its base that points toward the heavens. Much of Armenian art appears to refer to an elsewhere, having to do with faith rather than place, that Armenians took refuge in throughout their harrowing history of forced displacements. Theirs is a story of “mobility and metamorphosis,” as the show’s introductory wall label reminds us.

 

armenia-altar-detail

 

The church model (or acroterion, which means “ornament”) at the Monastery of Bardzrak‘ash (Dsegh, Lori, tenth–thirteenth century), which is displayed at a slant that makes it look like an axonometric projection, is attached to a large roof tile and was made to adorn the top of the Monastery of Bardzrak‘ash. According to Evans, the Early Christian world had a long tradition of donors holding models of the churches they funded. Another church model (Siwnik‘, eleventh–thirteenth century) carved out of tuff, a porous volcanic rock not unlike pumice, is the most elemental of them all. Its rectangular entrance, opening onto a dark cave-like interior, is oddly inviting.


Regarding small churches, Dr


Evans told me of a thirteenth-century text referring to a site that was attacked by Mongols. The Armenians held out for six weeks, which, given the brutality of Mongol attacks, according to Evans, counted for something like twenty years. The Mongols were so impressed that they decreed that anybody who could fit into the church and its tiny courtyard would be saved. The Mongols were stunned because, though there seemed to be no room inside the little church, more and more people kept filing in. Then they saw that the priest inside the church was transforming people into doves that flew out the windows of the apse. Birds are everywhere in Armenian iconography and they symbolize risen souls. “The Armenians believe that birds carry souls to heaven,” Evans explained.


The first long gallery of illuminated manuscripts, where you’ll find the crab, displays an open Gospel Book from the Monastery of Manuk Surb Nshan: two black-hooded figures sit side by side within a finely, if minimally evoked, architecture—some turrets with green onion-shaped domes. The black-bearded man, who is a teacher, hands an inkpot and pen to his red-bearded student,” Two angelic figures right below them, holding a green and a red vessel, appear to be celebrating the occasion.


The Great Shah Abbas I of Persia, of the Safavid dynasty, responsible for moving his kingdom’s capital from Qazvin to Isfahan summoned Armenian artists and artisans, as well as merchants, to the new city he was building. About three thousand families had been deported from the Armenian town of Julfa in the Ottoman Empire, after the Shah reconquered it in 1603. There was a second deportation in 1606. Many drowned as they attempted to cross the Aras river. Julfa was then burned down to stop the inhabitants from ever wanting to return to it.  (Some three hundred years later, the artist Arshile Gorky’s mother died of starvation in his arms after just such a death march in 1919 when Armenians were forced out of Eastern Turkey.) Sixteen large stones from the first church ever built in the holy city of Etchmiadzin are now kept in the summer altar of Gevork (St. George) Church in New Julfa, the city that the exiled Armenians founded as part of Isfahan, one of the thirteen churches still standing of the more than twenty originally built in the 1600s.


One of the most magnificent displays is the Tabula Chorographica Armenica (1691), a map that has hardly ever been exhibited, and which came accompanied by its own courier (as did most of the rare pieces in this exhibition) from the Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna. 

 

Approximately twelve feet by four, this spectacular piece of cartography is delicately colored and shaped like a cricket bat, narrower at the base, and has a multitude of inscriptions in green scallop-edged bubbles interspersed with occasional human figures. It charts the locations of nearly eight hundred sites, including diagrams of important Armenian churches in the Ottoman Empire, from Nishapur, in northeastern Iran, to the religious sites of Crimea. It was drawn by Eremia Ch‘elepi K‘eomiwrchean for Luigi Federico Marsili, a Bolognese aristocrat in the retinue of the Venetian ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and was, we are told, a testament to his erudition.  By the end of the seventeenth century Armenian communities were a substantial presence from London to Myanmar and from Amsterdam to Madras, and this map did not just illustrate the geographic reach of the Armenian presence, as the catalogue text points out, “it highlighted the Armenian networks of control through trade, culture, and religion.”

 

Another showstopper is the great liturgical curtain of Tokat (1689), also known as Eudokia, an eleven by eleven feet piece of printed pigment on cloth, from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia. Keith Haring would have appreciated its repeated outlined shapes and graphic clarity. Rows and rows of identical figures kneel in devotion. The background is sand-colored, the figures of men are off-white, silhouetted in brown-black, dull red, or black-red, the colors of drying blood. Lines drawn from the base of their throats to their groins, and along their arms make their entire bodies into crosses. Their mouths are half-open, set in an “Oh!” Above them, insets of similar figures, only with robes more ornate, also kneel in rows.

 


An angel beneath a curlicued halo, and with what looks like a large beauty mark on one cheek, gazes down on the scene from the upper left-hand corner. An astonishing number of lanterns, variously decorated in red and white and repeated amid a proliferation of crosses, fill the top band of the curtain. On the left, set in an arch, is an image of the Virgin and Child, and to the right, within another arch, that of Christ on the cross. Large drops of blood, like rain drops, or magnified cartoon-like tears, flow down into a small pool by Christ’s nailed feet. The Virgin at his side appears to wipe away tears and wears a dress of white stars on a red background. Above the cross sits a red-faced sun, and on the left, a smirking moon. Flitting birds or souls flank the cross. And angels are everywhere, hovering more like obliging insects than transcendent creatures, over church cupolas and altars, their wings propelling them in all directions, lending a faintly lighthearted note to the whole. This flight, evoking incorporeality, is perhaps one of escape, and an angel in a red polka-dot dress makes for a consoling sight. But red is the color of blood, too, as this dazzling curtain never allows one to forget. Saints and prelates hold up chalices, full of wine—or of blood? Martyrdom and celebration, however you wish to see it. The effect is exuberant, enveloping. Ornament and repetition keep your eyes anchored, your mind engaged. Could Armenians have learned this subterfuge from Islamic use of abstract, repetitive ornament?

A detail of the “Last Judgment” (1703–1708), from the Cathedral of the Forty Martyrs (Aleppo, Syria), that appears in the exhibition catalog shows a body of water beneath land that has been cross-sectioned, as though to reveal its hidden layers in a surrealist geological diagram. A number of genial-looking fish, all floating horizontally, have swallowed a few human beings whole. From the mouth of one, half a naked body protrudes: a bearded red-haired man emerging from a monstrous black fish holds out his hands to a single hand outstretched piteously from the top of a red octopus. The beautiful head of a woman pops out of the mouth of a red fish, and she looks serene in her captivity. A foot here and a leg there have yet to be swallowed. Above the lake, at ground level, figures of Christ illustrate different Gospel episodes by a row of tower-like buildings. Above them, in heaven, presumably, are groups of three and four, prophets or priests or saints, encircled by garlands of cottony clouds. The humans being swallowed by fish, a depiction of hell, reminded me of The Garden of Earthly Delights by a contemporary and follower of Hieronymus Bosch, which was painted in circa 1515. “It is no accident that the first Armenian book was printed in Venice in 1512,” Evans told me, “and that in the same sixteenth-century Armenian colonies flourished from Amsterdam to Madras, from the Crimea to Ethiopia.” Armenians have settled pretty much in every region of the world, and they have done so since antiquity, though the modern, and most tragic, Armenian diaspora was a result of the 1915 mass deportations and genocide.

 


Armenia is a country so often moved from one physical location to another that it has become adept at conjuring up its prophets and angels more easily than its landmarks. Listen to the legendary Komitas Vardapet (1869–1935) here singing Armenian liturgical music. His quivering voice occasionally goes off into a disquieting, almost rasping sound, as though migrating to a new land—the immaterial Armenia of faith and memory.





Загрузка...

LATEST NEWSAll Today news

16:43 • 18/12

Pregnant Meghan Markle shows burgeoning baby bump in printed dress paired with a £550 coat on visit to Royal Variety nursing home

16:05 • 18/12

Armenia and Russia’ negotiating to ban foreign presence in biological labs’

15:21 • 18/12

Mourinho sacked by Manchester United after worst start in 28 years

15:12 • 18/12

Armenia votes agaisnt anti-Russian resolution in UN General Assembly

14:49 • 18/12

Russian plan to bar foreign troops' presence in Armenia 'proposed as restraint against third states'

14:09 • 18/12

Oscar-winning director  and 'Leviathan' producer team up for pre-Holocaust doc

13:41 • 18/12

France will continue support to future reforms in Armenia - Macron issues congratulations to Pashinyan  

13:09 • 18/12

Trump did not promise Erdogan to extradite Gulen, says White House official

12:37 • 18/12

Apple slammed for ‘violating’ Chinese court order

12:09 • 18/12

168 Zham: What scenarios are proposed to sides of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

11:14 • 18/12

Iravunq: Artsakh president 'considering resignation' amid political tensions

10:44 • 18/12

Messi closes in on Ronaldo record

10:28 • 18/12

Zhoghovurd: Foreign remittances rise 4% in Jan-Oct 2018

09:57 • 18/12

Hungarian public broadcaster targeted 'slave law' protest

09:42 • 18/12

Strasbourg: Police make public appeal in manhunt

09:21 • 18/12

Former CBS boss denied $120m exit pay

17:59 • 17/12

Geraint Thomas named Sports Personality of the Year triumphs after Tour de France success

17:43 • 17/12

US TV channel stands up to Turkish and Azerbaijani government threats against broadcasting Armenian dancers

17:31 • 17/12

Artsakh officers, soldier ‘hospitalized after gun incidents’

17:10 • 17/12

Armenian president, Georgian premier discuss bilateral cooperation agenda

16:35 • 17/12

Kim Kardashian proves how much daughter North, 5, looks like mom as she shares throwback shot of 'Baby K'

16:17 • 17/12

Moscow, Yerevan 'preparing document' to guarantee foreign servicemen's absence in Armenia

15:52 • 17/12

Sleepless nights over Sandra Bullock's blindfold, says Oscar-winning director

15:34 • 17/12

Toyota becomes presenting partner of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch relay

15:03 • 17/12

Pashinyan voiced concern 'over Russian-Azerbaijani arms trade' at meeting with Lukashenko

14:19 • 17/12

Trump working on Gulen’s extradition, Turkey claims

13:34 • 17/12

Artsakh president and Armenian ambassador to Austria discuss foreign policy cooperation  

13:14 • 17/12

Georgian patriarch 'gives blessings' to Armenia president  

12:47 • 17/12

Artsakh president hosts Armenia’s education minister

12:07 • 17/12

Boxing: Artem Dalakian beats LeBron to defend WBA title

11:55 • 17/12

Jaguar Land Rover to 'axe up to 5,000 jobs'

11:47 • 17/12

Georgia swears in first female president

11:07 • 17/12

Nasa takes closest image ever of the sun

10:47 • 17/12

Lukashenko 'rebukes' Pashinyan over failure to criticize Russian-Azerbaijani arms trade

09:54 • 17/12

Singaporean gay couple win landmark appeal to adopt surrogate child

09:06 • 17/12

At least 17 civilians reported killed in US-led coalition’s airstrike in Syria

08:46 • 17/12

Strasbourg shooting: Toll in Christmas market attack rises to five

14:18 • 15/12

Best Picture Oscar From 1947 Sells for Nearly $500,000 at Auction

13:57 • 15/12

Nagorno-Karabakh reports more Azerbaijani ceasefire violations

13:45 • 15/12

Armenian president issues congratulations to political forces elected to parliament

13:00 • 15/12

Armenian football federation fined €18,000 over match with Gibraltar

12:24 • 15/12

Chicken-egg sized diamond found in Canada's frozen north

12:15 • 15/12

Erdogan: Khashoggi killer heard saying ‘I know how to cut’

12:02 • 15/12

Peaceful resolution of Karabakh conflict requires genuine efforts of all parties

11:31 • 15/12

Senator Robert Menendez pledges to with new US envoy to Armenia on securing ‘an honest acknowledgement of Genocide’

11:01 • 15/12

Christmas letter to Santa Claus from girl ‘discovered after 120 years’

10:29 • 15/12

How to see the 'Christmas comet': Stunning photos show green space rock ahead of its closest approach, as astronomers reveal it will be visible all around the world

10:10 • 15/12

Emergency Ministry warns of heavy-going highways in Armenia

09:24 • 15/12

Erdogan, Trump discuss Syria amid Turkey’s warning of new military operation

09:18 • 15/12

Australia ‘formally recognizes’ West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

09:01 • 15/12

Miracle six-day old baby survives Ebola in Congo

08:52 • 15/12

Macron pays tribute to Strasbourg terrorism victims

17:49 • 14/12

James Harden's 50-point triple-double, 4th of career, carries Rockets to victory over Lakers

17:34 • 14/12

Toyota recalls pickups, SUVs to fix air bag, brake problems

17:09 • 14/12

Yerevan court turns down motion to arrest ex-official

16:37 • 14/12

Mourinho: Man Utd 'far' from being built in my image

16:04 • 14/12

Lavrov: Russia expects renewed talks over Karabakh after cabinet formation in Armenia

15:35 • 14/12

Twitter releases first ever Transparency Report including policy violation stats for the first time

15:18 • 14/12

Armenian ombudsman visits jailed ex-President Robert Kocharyan

15:05 • 14/12

VEON appoints Ursula Burns as Chairman and CEO

14:53 • 14/12

Turkish military conducts airstrikes in northern Iraq

14:44 • 14/12

Pashinyan's issues condolences to France's Macron

14:08 • 14/12

Nagorno-Karabakh has new Minister of Defense; other government officials appointed  

12:52 • 14/12

That's Erie! Photographer snaps face in huge waves on windy day on the Great Lake

12:43 • 14/12

Demonstrators, police clash near Hungarian Parliament

12:25 • 14/12

Istanbul hosts Parajanov exhibition

11:50 • 14/12

Nancy Wilson, Grammy Winning US Jazz Singer, Dies at 81

11:31 • 14/12

Hraparak: Armenia's new government to have one deputy premier instead of three  

10:47 • 14/12

US Senate passes resolution to end US support for the Saudi war in Yemen

10:31 • 14/12

32 arrested at US-Mexico border in support of migrant caravan

09:46 • 14/12

White House to Officially Delay China Tariff Hike to March

09:34 • 14/12

Strasbourg Christmas market attacker shot dead

09:20 • 14/12

US Senate approves nomination of new ambassador to Armenia

17:40 • 13/12

Armenia 'will attend' BSEC summit in Baku

17:19 • 13/12

Pashinyan hosts Artsakh president to discuss domestic, foreign policy issues

16:33 • 13/12

Trump administration ‘won’t stand for Khashoggi’

16:14 • 13/12

Barack Obama beams as he accepts the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope award in New York  

15:37 • 13/12

Russia’s Lavrov to meet with top Azerbaijani leaders in Baku

14:56 • 13/12

Apple to build new $1bn campus in Texas

14:47 • 13/12

OPEC exit frees Qatar from US legal concerns

14:14 • 13/12

Jennifer Lopez steps out in 12 different ensembles in just two days during whirlwind promotional tour for Second Act  

14:02 • 13/12

South African court jails men in cannibal case

13:19 • 13/12

Russia ‘disposed to constructive dialogue’ with Armenia

12:41 • 13/12

Pompeo urges UN to ban Iranian missile tests  

12:04 • 13/12

US voices 'grave concern' over Turkey's planned Syria operation

11:50 • 13/12

Gown worth $11m shown in Cairo International Film Festival closing event

11:36 • 13/12

Armenian elections: Time for Pashinyan to deliver on his vision of a 'new' Armenia – European Policy Center  

11:11 • 13/12

North and South Koreas cross border in peace

10:55 • 13/12

168 Zham: Russian president ‘not supposed’ to issue greetings to Pashinyan after parliamentary elections

10:12 • 13/12

Theresa May to join EU summit after surviving vote

09:58 • 13/12

High-speed train crashes in Ankara, killing at least four and injuring dozens

09:50 • 13/12

Nazarbaev hails developing relations with Armenia ‘in the spirit of confidence’  

09:17 • 13/12

US condemns deadly gun attack in Strasbourg

18:02 • 12/12

Man City forward named Premier League player of the month

17:47 • 12/12

NASA releases InSight's first selfie from the surface of Mars

17:31 • 12/12

Oscar Academy looks warily at host options as board meeting looms

17:22 • 12/12

No Armenians reported among survivors of Strasbourg attack

17:08 • 12/12

Santa's chicest helper! A beaming Melania Trump wears a festive $1,050 plaid jacket and slouchy boots as she hands out Be Best backpacks

16:18 • 12/12

Acting justice minister says legal reforms 'aim to ensure uniformity' of domestic laws with European standards

14:58 • 12/12

Ucom launches x2-gigabyte package as special New Year offer to subscribers