Art and Culture
Armenia is one of the most ancient countries in the world.
Human beings have inhabited the Armenian Plateau and Caucasus Region since over 100,000 years ago.It is not surprising that artifacts found during archaeological excavations were appraised by experts to date back more than 2 million years, attesting to the fact that the Armenian highlands could be looked upon as one of the origins of human creation. Remnants of the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages, megalithic buildings cut in stone, rock paintings and carvings, tomb fields, and fortified settlements stand as witnesses to the 10,000 years of Armenia’s history.
Additionally, the Bible records that Noah’s Ark came to rest on Historic Armenia’s Mt. Ararat and there are many references of his descent from the mountain after the Great Flood. In the Ararat valley one comes across the remnants of the Medzamor Bronze and Iron Age settlements – symbols of early urban civilization in Armenia. All of these stand as the cradle of Armenian Civilization country situated between some of the Old World’s major water ways and validate that the inhabitants of this land were one of the first known to forge bronze, and the first to smelt iron; they also were the first recorded astronomers to create a solar calendar; the first to devise the compass and to picture the world as round.
Unique discoveries revealed as a result of excavations at Shengavit (4000-3000 B.C.) confirm that Armenia is the motherland of metallurgy, jeweler’s art, wine-making and horse breeding.
A group of archaeologists studying the ancient city concluded that 4000-3000 B.C. Armenia was a highly developed state with exclusive culture. The excavations are carried out by an Armenian-American archaeological expedition.
The Armenians, an ancient people living on an ancient land, call Armenia “Hayastan” and themselves “Hai”. Oral history explains the lineage of the Armenian people as being the direct descendants of Noah’s son Japheth. The indigenous people of the land of Ararat, Armenians forged their national identity with the rise of powerful Armenian kingdoms, the adoption of Christianity as Armenia’s state religion, and the creation of the Armenian alphabet, which spurred the development of literature, philosophy, and science. Tourists find over 4,000 historical monuments throughout Armenia, covering various periods of the country’s history from prehistoric to Hellenistic times and from the early to medieval Christian era. There is no better place to view literary and artistic history than Yerevan’s unique Matenadaran (Institute of Ancient Manuscripts), which houses an extraordinary collection of 14,000 complete manuscripts, fragments and miniatures. Armenian manuscripts, beautifully illuminated with miniatures, combine Armenia’s literary and illustrative traditions.
The Christian faith has shaped Armenian culture so intimately that it permeates the very landscape at virtually every corner of the country. The Armenians created their masterpieces during rare periods of peace and relative prosperity over the centuries. From ancient times, Armenians have cherished their artistic traditions, which reflect a unique culture and landscape. Aspects of everyday life are expressed in the most artistic fashion, in needlework, embellishments, carvings and design.
Wood carvings replicate the ancient stone crosses (khachkars) found throughout the country, and no two are exactly alike. Armenian crafts couple elegant utility and delightful whimsy in textiles, ceramics, metal and woodworking.
Rug weaving and silk cultivation.
The complex history of Armenian tufted carpet and rug weaving that has its roots in the ancient times, was acted out in the Near East, a vast, ancient, and ethnically diverse region. Few are the people who, like the Armenians, can boast of a continuous and consistent record of fine textile production from the first millennium B.C. to the present.
The one ancient carpet miraculously excavated from the frozen tombs of Siberia is the famous Pazyrik carpet dated from the 5th to the 3rd century B.C. This square tufted carpet, almost perfectly intact, is considered by many experts of Caucasian specifically Armenian, origin. a masterpiece of Armenian workmanship. Armenian carpets are unique “texts” composed of the ornaments where sacred symbols reflect the beliefs and religious notions of the ancient ancestors of the Armenians that reached us from the depth of centuries.
The characteristic trait of Armenian carpets – luxurious and dainty pieces of arts, is the triumph of the variability of ornaments that is increased by the wide gamut of natural colors and tints and. In VIII-XIV c.c., when the carpet weaving started to develop at Near East, Armenia “was one of the most productive regions” in this regards. It was conditioned by the existence of “good quality wool, pure water and dyes, especially beautiful purple dye vordan karmir. In addition, the type, size and thickness of carpets and rugs had been dictated by the climatic conditions of the complete Armenian Highland. A famous trader and explorer, Marco Polo still admired Armenian carpets “most beautiful in the world” as he recorded in his Book.
One of the most important conditions for the development of carpet and rug weaving was the availability of towns and cities, where the arts and crafts might develop and Armenians make their living primarily from trade and as craftsmen. Therefore, oriental carpet is neither of nomadic origin, nor do its origins lie in Central Asia; it is a product of ancient oriental civilizations in the Armenian Uplands at the crossroads of the oldest trade routes between west, north and south.
These cities and towns also served as large commercial centers located on main ancient trade routs that passed by the Armenian Highland, including one of the branches of Silk Road that passed across Armenia.. In addition to the carpets, unsurpassed and more splendrous in colour than anywhere else in the world, silks in all colours are also produced there.
One of these trade routes was the famous Silk Road. Besides the carpets silk was also produced in the Armenian Highland, with its incomparable unique color richness. For explorers and traders from the times of Marco Polo the main route of “Silk Road” from China to Europe was the Medieval Armenia. Weary travelers found their place for rest in pubs and caravanserais.
The Selim Caravanserai (Armenian: Սելիմ; also referred to as the Sulema Caravanserai) was built along the Selim Pass (2410 m) in 1332, by Prince Chesar Orbelianis. The purpose was to accommodate weary travelers and their animals as they crossed from, or into, the Selim (Sulema) Mountains. Located at the south side of the Selim Pass, in the Vayots Dzor provence of Armenia, this is the best preserved caravanserai in the entire country. It is one of the exquisite examples of Middle Armenian architecture. This building is an excellent example of Armenian secular architecture in the Middle Ages. Marco Polo is known to have passed through this place and described how the local Armenians lived amidst the rugged mountains.
Sericulture in Armenia has deep historical routes. According to knowledgeable historians, silk extraction spread into Transcaucasia, particularly Armenia, in the 5th-6th centuries A.D., mainly from Central Asia. The quality of Armenian silk was praised by historians because Armenian cocoons were of high quality and hand reeling produced the finest high quality thread. Armenian silk also stood out because of its colors. Back then, in the cities of Dvin and Artashat in Armenia, a special expensive dye, cochineal ( Porphyrophora hamelii/Homoptera, Coccidae),was produced and named “kirmiz”. It was used to dye wool and silk and these textiles were exported to Europe under the name “kirmiz”.
Architecture is one of the most interesting art forms in Armenia, as, for example, churches bear artistic illustrations in frescoes and reliefs. Sculpting is everywhere – in nearly every city, town, and village in Armenia.
Armenian architecture, and Armenian churches in particular, has several distinctive features, believed by some to be the first national style of church building.Garni was built along Hellenistic classical lines, but embodies much of the sacred numerology and geometry devised by Ancestral Armenians 4200 years earlier. Garni’s design has great symbolism.
Common characteristics of Armenian architecture include first and foremost, the pointed dome, reminiscent of the volcanic cone of Greater Ararat. Most works of Armenian art had a Christian meaning. In fact it would be almost impossible to find any religion that rose completely on its own without borrowing some traditions from the past. Other media of Armenian art include sculptures; frescoes, mosaics, and ceramics; metalwork and engravings; textiles; music; and printing.
The Art of Armenia is the unique form of art developed over 4,500 years of habitation of the Armenian Highland by the Armenian people. Armenian architecture and miniature painting have dominated Armenian artistic production and have shown consistent development over the centuries. With its noble classical architecture mainly of colored tuff alive with national elements, Armenia is ought to famous Armenian architect Alexander Tamanyan.
And only in Armenia one can find so many stone miracles and inherent part of them are khachkars set up on different occasions: in honour of enemy victory, in case of the church or bridge construction close, commendation for allotment receipt. Central symbol of every khachkars is a cross flourished and evolute like a tree or flower. Such cross is both execution tool and the symbol of new and eternal life, the way to which is open by the Atonement. Above the cross it is usually imaged the symbols of four evangelists common for all Christian confessions- eagle, lion, ox and angel. But in Armenia it also symbolizes four beginnings of universe- fire, water, earth and air. And note that khachkars stands before the sun like the buried man to the east i.e it embodies the concept of Resurrection and renaissance. You should only enjoy this open air museum.
Khachkars, which are carved images of a cross in stone, play a crucial role in the Christian Culture of Armenia.
During the Prehistoric Era and in the mountains next to river sources, vishaps “dragons” were carved out in stone which are deemed as the “ancestors” of the Khachkars. People living during that time imagined them to be enchanted heroes of their myths and legends. In all of Armenia one can count several thousand cross stones (Khachkars) and each is distinguishable from the other with its unique ornaments even though all ornaments had one similar theme.
In 2010 November, the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List considers the Art of the Armenian Cross-Stones: Symbolism and Craftsmanship of Khachkars as part of its list.
After invention of the Armenian writing there began development of the art of decorating of parchment miniatures in Armenia.
Characteristic originality trait of the Armenian culture is drawing on the walls and drawing miniatures. The former was implemented on the walls of churches and other structures and the latter was the art of picture decorating of handwritten papers.
In the Matenadaran (depository of ancient Armenian manuscripts, a unique Institute having no analogue in the world) as well as in many museums of the world they keep works of Armenian miniature artists such as Manas, Margare Tsakhghogh (the decorator), Toros Roslin, Sargis Pitsak and others great many picture decorated manuscripts (Bible, church and other literature, translations etc).
The Bible and manuscripts were often decorated with figured pictures which mirrored the motherland with its animal and herbal world, traditions of the people, rituals etc.
Miniature manuscripts also exist in other funds of manuscripts. Persian manuscripts are decorated with particularly valuable miniatures which were inherited during the period of Sefevins.
It is worth mentioning the Afgan manuscripts which are decorated with high art illuminations. These are Ali Agbar Ibn Asemi (17th century) “Golshane Afghaneh” (Afgan Park).
Mosaic is a variety painting with which they usually covered floor of churches, palaces and bathhouses. Mosaic of the bathhouse and cloakroom of the Garni heathen temple is one of the greatest memorials of pre-Christian Armenia.
Mosaic was made from many-colored and many-shaded stone. The best Armenian mosaic has been preserved in the Armenian Church in Jerusalem. One of them has a surface of about 30m2 and they are finished with clusters of birds, fish and grape.
Any kind of art in all the nations reveals this or that strong or weak point of the characteristic feature. Armenian painting is not exclusion: it reveals one of the greatest inborn characteristic features of the nation – feeling of the color and its perception. On the one hand, intent procreation of the aesthetic imagination, on the other hand it expresses analyses of reality as well as imagination including the vision of the world from the point of surrealistic view.
Armenian painting flourished in the XIX century.
Famous artists of those times were the marine painter Hovhannes Aivazovski, portrait painter Hakob Hovnatanyan who till present are world wide famous. It is still necessary to decide the place of Hakob Hovnatanyan in the world art of painting. Power of this extremely original master is in collation of different directions of XIX century art, including the Russian realistic school, and aesthetic perception of Persian culture. This amazing collation of styles allowed Hovnatanyan to be become a world famous portrait painter, to have his place in the world culture as one of the best representatives and be the head of the national school. In 1920-ies there worked such famous masters as Martiros Saryan, Sedrak Arakelyan, Stepan Aghajanyan, Yeghishe Tadevosyan, Hakob Kojoyan and V.Galfejyan.
Special is the role of one of greatest artists Martiros Saryan in the world art who became well known in the XX century. He expressed beauty of his motherland. Bright, colorful and balanced colors are characteristic for his canvases which as if emit light and warmth.
Outstanding Armenian artists of the 60-ies of the XX century are Minas Avetisyan, Rouben Hovnatanyan, Edward Kharazyan and others.
The rows of the artists of 60-ies were replenished by the immigrant artists A.Galents, H.Hakobyan, B.Vardanyan and others. Two of them, A.Galents, H.Hakobyan, are great masters whose art had a new impact in the motherland.
They found out another world of Armenian reality and Armenian landscape genre framework of still life.
Armenian painting has value in the world. It should be noted that although such great masters as Arshil Gorky, Levon Toutounjyan, Grigor Shldyan and Jirair Orakyan, Gargu, Jansem, Zaven Arshakouni and others lived in other countries during different periods of time but anyhow they represent to some degree painters of the Armenian nation.
Armenian professional sculpture came into existence between the XIX and XX centuries.
Representatives of the elder generation of the Armenian sculptors are Sergey Merkuorov, Ara Sargsyan, Yervand Kochar and Ara Shiraz. One of the famous works by Merkourov is the monument to Stepan Shahoumyan erected in 1931. One of the works by Ara Sargsyan is the group sculpture “Sahak Partev and Mesrop Mashtots” which is situated in front of the Yerevan State University. Yervand Kochar is an artist and a sculptor. One of his smartest works is the monument of David Sasountsi in the square of the Yerevan railway station. One of the last works by Ara Shiraz is the monument of Warlord Andranik (2002) situated in front of the church Grigor the Illuminator.
The Armenian dance (Հայկական Պար) heritage has been one of the oldest, richest and most varied in the Near East that brightly expresses Armenians’ nature, aesthetic mentality and reflects their national character, inner world, attitude towards nature and life. From the fifth to the third millennia B.C., in the higher regions of Armenia the land of Ararat there are rock paintings of scenes of country dancing.
Armenian dance art originated from remote аges and has a history of more than 2500 years and it is one of the ancient arts of the world. It brought with itself the ancient Armenian folk rites and traditions, ethnographic games and diverse folk images.
Armenian girls’ dances are very flowing, fluent and graceful in which the principal images are created by hands that are very plastic. But the men’s dances, on the contrary, are very fiery and proud where rapid and unit form movements of legs attract attention. The beauties of dances are also expressed through the variety of national picturesque costumes and in the originality of dance movements.
The image characteristic of Armenian ornaments, ancient cross-stones (khachkars) and manuscripts are obviously viewed in the concrete action and in the basis of the of Armenian girl’s dances movements. The traditional costumes (taraz) and dance cloths inherited from centuries lavishly express Armenian people’s exquisite taste and aesthetic peculiarities.
The dress of the Armenians has been complimented by a rich cultural tradition. Wool and fur were utilized by the Armenians and later cotton that was grown in the fertile valleys. Silk imported from China was used by royalty, during the Urartian period. Later the Armenians cultivated silkworms and produced their own silk.
The collection of Armenian women’s costumes begins during the Urartu time period, wherein dresses were designed with creamy white silk, embroidered with gold thread. The costume was a replica of a medallion unearthed by archaeologists at Toprak Kale near Lake Van which some 3,000 years ago was the site of the capital of the Kingdom of Urartu.
As in the history of any other nation the national dressing style and outfit have had significant importance in the development of national style and unique characteristics. The unique dressing style of Armenian nation have passed a long way of historical development has become an inseparable part of the Near and Middle East cultural heritage, without losing its true Armenian peculiarities.
The dressing style of the Armenian nation has been one of the factors of its national identity. Even together with some stylish resemblances the Armenian nation has always had a very creative approach in ornament and decoration that has been expressed in the different tribal styles and centennial traditions. One should mention especially the traditionalism of Armenian women in the preservation of the culturally unique styles of the outfit. The specific styles of the cut , the choice of subtle colors and ornament, the rationalism of forms has been the result of the creative merits of the Armenian women.
Traditional dark red colour that resembles famous vordan karmir and exquisite embroidered armenian costumes (taraz) are the ideal mix of choreography and tradition.Fur s were also utilized Ermine (that has the root of the word“Armenia”) was one of the expensive ones and exported to Europe by Armenians.
All these dresses expressed luxurious heritage of the alive culture: They are the present heritage of proud and gifted people, whose valuable contribution are going on to develop from the sources of 3 thousand years ancient history.
Armenia is situated close to the Caucasus Mountains, and its music is a mix of indigenous folk music. Armenians love music, and they have been creating exquisite compositions for centuries. Sharakans are traditional Armenian liturgical songs, which are experiencing a revival today. Earlier in Armenian history, instruments like the kamancha were played by popular, travelling musicians called ashoughs. Sayat Nova an 18th century ashough, is still revered, as are more modern performers like Rouben Matevosyan, Papin Poghosian, Hamlet Gevorgyan and the others. The most notable female vocalists in the Armenian folk genre have been: Araksia Gyulzadyan, Ophelia Hambardzumyan, Varduhi Khachatrian.
Armenian religious music remained liturgical until Komitas Vardapet one of the prominent figures of the Armenian music throughout the history introduced polyphony in the end of the 19th century. Apart from his contribution to religious music, Komitas may be considered the founder of modern classical Armenian music.
Armenian folk music finds its ideal match with the help of unique musical instuments such as Davul (double-headed hand drum), Oud (lute), Tar (short-necked lute),Zurna (shawm), kanon (dulcimer) dhol, Shvi, and Duduk (tsiranapog, iterally “apricot horn”) that is best –represented by the famous duduk players Djivan Gasparyan,Gevorg Dabaghyan, Andranik Askaryan and the others. Arto Tuncboyaciyan and his Armenian Navy Band (ANB) is a contemporary Armenian musician who has been taking Traditional Armenian Folk Music to new frontiers fusing it with other types of world music and jazz.
There have been many famous Armenian composers whose music was performed worldwide, the most famous, however, was Aram Khatchaturian, internationally well known especially for his music for ballets Gayane (which includes the immortal Saber Dance) and Spartacus. .
Other Armenian classical composers include Tigran Tchoukhajian, Edward Mirzoyan, Edgar Hovhannessyan, Arno Babajanian, Aleksander Spendiarian, Armen Tigranyan, Haro Stepanyan the last are especially famous for their Armenian operas. Alan Hovhaness etc. Composers such as Tigran Mansuryan, Loris Tjeknavorian, Robert Amirkhanian, and Edward Manukyan can be classified as “modern classical”. In Diaspora Armenian musicians Kim Kashkashyan and Alan Hovhannes are world famous.
Contemporary music comes in the forms of jazz , rock and pop.
Among the rock bands of the old generation were the “Apostles” of Arthur Meschian, “Vostan Hayots” and “Ayas”. Although the audience remains small for local rock groups, interest in young rock bands as Sard, Bambir 2 is increasing.
The first jazz-band of Yerevan was founded in 1936. In 1938 composer Artemi Ayvazyan organized the Armenian State Estrada (Jazz) Orchestra. The conventional performers in the pop-vocal genre have been: Georgi Minasian, Artahes Avetyan, and Levon Sevan.
American composer Daniel Decker has achieved critical acclaim for his collaborations with Armenian composer Ara Gevorgyan. “Noah’s Prayer” (originally entitled “Mush”) chronicles Noah’s journey to Mount Ararat “Noah’s Prayer” was debuted in 2002 in Sardarapat Armenia to celebrate Armenian Independence day.
Armenians can also be proud of the eminent musicians being Armenians by nationality but living ( and even born) outside of Armenia. Some of them are very famous all over the world. In France Armenian descent artistCharles Aznavour (born Aznavourian) is much celebrated show and song-stars for decades. In 2009 Armenian-American singer and songwriter Serj Tankian along with his dad Khatchador Tankian sang their rendition of Bari Arakeel on an Armenian charity telethon. Armenian American pop artists include Cher, whose real name is Cherylin Sarkissian and all the members of the popular heavy metal band System of a Down.