Arts and Crafts in Armenia
From Urartian burnished wine jugs to Kochar’s Painting in Space and Kond’s street art, Armenian art is majestic and vital, representing a nation that went through war and peace, repressions and revival.
The exhibitions at the museums, galleries, and famous Vernissage in Armenia celebrate the Armenian culture's long-lasting legacy and diversity. Colorful and impressive, these collections include manuscripts, textiles, khachkars (cross stones), ceramics and jewellery that mainly attest a Christian world.
The Matenadaran, Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan will impress you with an unmatched collection of ancient books and manuscripts. Today, it houses about 20 000 illuminated manuscripts. These are handwritten books with painted miniatures and ornaments usually containing precious metals such as gold or silver. The pages were made from the skin of animals, usually calf, sheep, or goat. The Matenadaran's most ancient manuscript is Vehamor Gospel (Our Lady's Evangelium) that dates back to the 8th century.
The Matenadaran's greatest treasure is the giant book, Msho Charentir that was created between 1200 and 1203. Mush's Homilies in English, it is the largest manuscript in this series, 55.5 cm wide and 70 cm long, weighing 28 kg.
It was kept in Arakelots Monastery, present-day eastern Turkey until 1915. During the Armenian Genocide, two Armenian women saved the manuscript by dividing it into two parts and bringing to Eastern Armenia. It is rich in miniatures whose colors are vibrant as if the ornaments were newly painted.
Carpets and rugs
Once saw, always loved. Armenian carpets and rugs hold centuries-long traditions, values and stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.
It is difficult to imagine a traditional Armenian home without carpets. Before and now, Armenian carpets are made of high-quality wool and dyed with natural colors (flowers and vordan karmir, a carmine dye from a scale insect). Each region and province has its specific style, design and diverse ornaments that mostly depict the tree of life, flowers, birds and horses.
The world’s oldest rug
The oldest surviving knotted carpet is the Pazyryk rug, incredibly excavated in Siberian frozen tombs and now exhibited at the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia. It dates from the 5th to 3rd century BC. Many experts find this square tufted carpet, almost completely intact, to be of distinctly Armenian origin.
If you want to take a piece of Armenia home, you can buy a carpet or rug at Megerian Carpets or Vernissage, an open-air market in Yerevan. Megerian Carpets offers a unique opportunity to explore the history of Armenian carpet weaving, cuisine and music.
Taraz – Armenian folk costume
Like carpets and rugs, Armenian traditional dresses mirror the vivid and warm colors of Armenia’s nature and symbols and values locals have cherished for centuries.
Though these dresses are no longer worn in Armenia, you can visit Vernissage, Teryan Cultural Center and Photo Atelier Marashlyan to discover the story behind garments and jewellery. There are many variations of a folk costume on the basic styles depending on the area, class identity and fashion. You might even know the marital status of a person by the dress and accessories they wore. A married woman used to wear a ‘tower’, head accessory that was more intricate and covered half her forehead. The first basic materials were wool and cotton, while the majority of the accessories were made of silver.
Taraz has developed through the years, and design elements can be found in modern Armenian fashion designer collections.
Armenian contemporary art often has elements from the illumination of medieval religious manuscripts. Diverse in genres and concepts, these artworks reflect the bright spirit of Armenians and captivating scenery they live and thrive in.
To make the most of your time in Armenia, make sure you visit the National Gallery of Armenia, and multiple museums that showcase works by Armenian and foreign artists. Here is a short list of artists you should get to know better during your stay in Armenia:
- Vardges Surnenyants is officially deemed the founder of historical Armenian painting. His paintings' key themes include Armenian legends and myths, fascinating historical events, characters, and fairy tales.
- Martiros Saryan is one of the notable Armenian painters ever. His masterpieces depict Armenia and its nature with a most vibrant palette.
- Minas Avetisyan’s canvases and frescoes will immerse you into the rural life of Armenians, depicting the true Armenian spirit and charm – colorful, warm and peaceful.
- Arshil Gorky, along with Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and others is regarded as one of the influential leaders of abstract expressionism.
- Ervand Kochar is a founder of the Painting in Space art movement that combines all the possibilities of painting, graphic and sculpture.
Apart from the National Gallery, Saryan’s and Kochar’s museums, Sergei Parajanov Museum, Modern Art Museum and several others, Yerevan is home to a unique collection of modern art exhibited at the Cafesjian Center for the Arts. The center brings together an impressive variety of artworks by such renowned contemporary artists as Botero, Libenský and Brychtová, Chihuly, Khanjian and others.